State Hospital South adds more headstones to cemetery

A ribbon-cutting ceremony took place Tuesday to recognize the placement of 120 new headstones in the State Hospital South's Cemetery.
The project was started in 2011 by hospital administrator Tracey Sessions. To date, 165 headstones have been placed in the cemetery.
"Our goal is to place 300 more headstones by next year," she said. "I hope each grave will have a headstone by the time I retire. I retire in five years."
Asked how she became interested in this project, Sessions said. "Everyone of us wants someone to remembers who we were and our life story.
"[These patients] were pioneers in the treatment of mental illness," she said.
The hospital's cemetery is the resting place for over 1,000 patients who passed away between 1886 until the early 1980s.
The hospital opened in 1886. The patients, called inmates at that time, made the bricks for the three-story building, she said. In 1889, there was a fire and the building burned down.
Patients died in the fire.
It was recommended that buildings should be only one level after that fire, Sessions said. There are now only two three-story buildings on campus. One was built during the New Deal under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
For the most part, patients brought to State Hospital South had a mental illness, the administrator said. In the early years, the hospital was also an asylum for tuberculosis and an institution for dementia, epilepsy and other neurological disorders.
The cemetery project has been spread over the Internet.
Families have been able to seek out family members through this project, Sessions said. In September 2012, Ann and Ramon traveled from Evergreen, Colo., in search of Ann's great uncle, Fred Marshal Sager.
Sager was born in Omaha, Neb., in 1884. His mother passed away when he was 5 years old. At some point, his father remarried and relocated the family to Ohio.
In 1911, Sager registered for the World War I draft but was never drafted.
He spent most of his life working as a steel bridge man for the Union Pacific Railroad, moving all over the country. Eventually, he settled in Idaho.
Sager suffered from multiple illnesses but he died from tuberculosis on Dec. 13, 1957, and was buried in the State Hospital South Cemetery.
Traveling to Blackfoot, Ann and Ramon located Sager's grave and were also referred to the Bingham County Courthouse.
With a copy of Sager's birth and death certificates, they learned that he had been married and had a daughter who was last known to be living in Denver.
"The search to piece together their family's history started at State Hospital South," said Sessions. "We love hearing and archiving stories such as these."
American Monument is the company that has provided the granite, engraved the headstones and placed them in the cemetery. This year, the cost is $74 per headstone.
Each headstone is granite in concrete and, once placed in the cemetery, has a GPS locater on it.
Tax-deductible donations can be sent to State Hospital South Cemetery Campaign, P.O. Box 400, Blackfoot, ID 83221.
For further information, contact Lauren Watts at or by calling (208) 785-8405.