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State Hospital South places headstones on unmarked cemetery graves

After nearly 150 years, unmarked graves of deceased State Hospital South patients are finally getting headstones.
There are more than 1,000 graves in the cemetary in Blackfoot, and no state money for the project.

“My grandfather was here in the 1940s,” said SHS director Tracey Sessions.

The project is particularly meaningful for Sessions. Her grandfather died at the hospital in the 1940s, after a long treatment for what would now be known as the symptoms of dementia.

After his death, he was buried privately in a family plot. Others don’t have the same luxury.

“In the 1800s, families were kind of abandoned once they were placed here,” she said.

On Wednesday, the final resting place for more than 1,000 began to look more like a real cemetery.

Assistant director Diane Yarrington said it is a wonderful start. She said there has never been money allocated to burying deceased patients with identification.
“Just the basic elements of their story, their name their birth date and their death date, the funds just weren’t there,” said Yarrington.
Patients have been buried without headstones since 1886, but as families began to trace geneology, Yarrington said, donations began to pour into the hospital.

“We’re just thrilled to show those donations are going toward a headstone and be able to place 30 of them,” said Yarrington.

For Sessions, it is a step toward providing the dead with respect deserved.

“This should be a family plot for those who are buried here, too,” she said. “I think that’s what we give back, is that dignity and respect, and honor.”

In addition to donations, the hospital plans to use granite from a demolished building to make about 20 more headstones.

Each stone will cost about $60, and the goal is to place 100 more by the end of 2012.

A tax-deductible donation can be mailed to:

State Hospital South Cemetery Campaign
PO Box 400
Blackfoot, ID 83221

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