Nearly 1,000 individuals buried in a forgotten Idaho cemetery, how you can help remember them

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When Tracey Sessions was appointed hospital administrator, only 15 of 996 burial plots had headstones. She worked to make sure every person received a headstone. | Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com

BLACKFOOT, Idaho (ABC4 News, Nate Eaton, East Idaho News) – State Hospital South Cemetery sits just outside of Blackfoot Idaho, a state-owned psychiatric hospital that opened nearly 130 years ago.

Back then, it was a place where individuals would drop off their family who were mentally ill and move on with their lives, forgetting about the ones they left behind.

The Idaho Insane Asylum opened in Blackfoot in 1887. | Courtesy State Hospital South

Most patients died alone while being “inmates” at the hospital. If their bodies were not claimed, they were wrapped in a white cloth and buried in the cemetery, only marked with a concrete stone and without any formal service.

“Most people don’t even know there is a cemetery here,” Blackfoot South Clinical Supervisor Jim Sessions told East Idaho News. “People oftentimes don’t want anything to do with things associated with mental illness because it’s just something that’s hard for them to deal with and understand.”

In 2008, Tracy Sessions took over as the administrator for the hospital and made it a point to take care of a place where many who had been forgotten.

“She was very passionate about working with the mentally ill, and she had been for many, many years,” Deena Surerus, who worked with Sessions, told East Idaho News. “Her enthusiasm and excitement and compassion she had for the mentally ill was very contagious, so it was hard not to be involved.”

Without a budget to fix up the cemetary, Tracey started fundraising.

John Campbell was the first person buried in State Hospital South Cemetery in 1890 – the same year Idaho became a state. | Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com

“She wanted to start a project to get headstones for every grave,” Jim told East Idaho News. “There were 996 people buried here and only 15 graves had headstones. She wanted to beautify the cemetery to show respect.”

Over the years, Tracey was able to raise enough money so that each and everyone buried there had a headstone and spending thousands of hours turning the sacred grounds into a beautiful cemetery.

Last year, Tracey died of pancreatic cancer, and her husband of 30-years, Jim, decided to dedicate himself to continue her legacy of caring for the mentally ill even after they are gone.

Since Tracey’s passing, 22 trees have been planted and Jim is focused on getting all of the headstones set in concrete. 111 have been completed with a little less than 900 more to go.

Because of Tracy, her husband Jim, Surerus and so many others, those buried at the State Hospital South Cemetery will never be forgotten.

You can read the full story at EastIdahoNews.com.

How you can help

If you would like to volunteer or donate to the Blackfoot South Cemetery, call Jim Sessions at (208) 569-0967.

Checks may be made out to State Hospital South and sent to:

State Hospital South
Tracey Sessions Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 400
Blackfoot, ID 83221

Credit/debit card payments:

Contact the State Hospital South business office at (208) 785-5895.

Venmo: Tracey-SessionsMemorialFund

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