Idaho state hospital installs headstones

Hundreds without formal burial sites

BLACKFOOT, Idaho – An effort to place headstones on the graves of former patients at State Hospital South in southeastern Idaho is moving forward with another 120 set in the cemetery that holds more than 1,000 people.

The Idaho State Journal reported that hospital staff, residents and others took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the State Hospital South Cemetery on Tuesday.

The 127-year-old hospital previously called the Idaho Insane Asylum once housed patients for years, or until they died. Some of the patients underwent lobotomies and other early procedures in attempts to help sufferers of mental illnesses that were poorly understood at the time.

“They deserve respect and dignity,” Hospital Administrator Tracey Sessions said.

Besides people with mental illness, the hospital also treated patients with dementia, epilepsy, tuberculosis and neurological diseases. About 860 graves await headstones in the cemetery established in 1886. Hospital officials hope to have another 300 marked by next Memorial Day.

“This is a great project for people who had no family or nowhere to go,” said Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree. “I feel like this is an important thing.”

Sessions said each of the granite and concrete headstones cost $74.

“We’re looking for more opportunities (to raise funds),” Sessions said.

One person buried in the cemetery is Fred Marshal Sager, who hospital officials said suffered from a variety of illnesses and in 1957 died of tuberculosis.

Laruen Watts, an office specialist with State Hospital South, said a couple from Colorado recently drove to Blackfoot seeking details of their relative. The couple found what they were looking for and also learned that Sager had married and had a daughter.

“The search to piece together their family’s history started at State Hospital South,” officials said.

Some patients who died at the hospital had no family and were buried in unmarked graves between the 1880s and 1980s.

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