150 Boise icons: Morris Hill Cemetery

Idaho StatesmanMay 27, 2013 

Morris Hill Cemetery, with its massive trees, shady expanses and the mist that appears on very cold mornings and very hot afternoons, is a place of considerable beauty.

Like lots of Boise neighborhoods, it's an equal opportunity kind of place, a mix of the grand and the modest.

The imposing markers of Sens. William Borah (died 1940) and Frank Church (1984) aren't far from the simple marker on the grave of gubernatorial assassin Harry Orchard that reads "The Man God Made Again." Orchard died in 1954.

Magnates Joe Albertson (1993) and J.R. Simplot (2008) are buried at Morris Hill. So is "Peg Leg" Annie Morrow, owner of gold rush "houses of entertainment" in Atlanta and Rocky Bar. She lost her feet to frostbite but lived to be 75. She was buried at Morris Hill in 1934.

The stone of James Jesus Angleton, the Boise-born director of counterintelligence for the CIA during the 1970s, stands a short walk from the field set aside for the indigent men and women that Ada County pays to bury. Markers are tiny, though in some cases families have later put up larger headstones.

The cemetery contains various sections, including those for St. John's Cathedral, for Beth Israel, for fraternal organizations. There's an Islamic section and an Asian section.

One irony: The city placed the Asian section in what was initially an out-of-the-way corner of Morris Hill. The construction of Americana Boulevard after World War II made the Asian section at Latah and Emerald one of the cemetery's most prominent.

Morris Hill has three sections devoted to the military. Several anonymous graves of soldiers lie throughout the military sections.

The urns of the Pittenger family, whose iconic sequoia tree still stands on the grounds of St. Luke's Downtown, stand together inside the cemetery's mausoleum.

Celebrated firm Tourtellotte and Hummel, the firm that arguably had more to do with the look and feel of Boise than any other, designed the mausoleum in 1938.

For a time between 1906 and the late 1920s, the Boise Valley Railroad Company ran a special funeral street car hearse. William Dougall, a former curator at the Idaho State Historical Society and an expert on Boise's former streetcar and interurban rail system, told the Statesman more about the route. The rail company laid tracks from Downtown Boise up Fairview Hill to Ustick Road. At the top of the hill, a branch called the "Hillcrest Loop" turned and made its way to Roosevelt Street. The rails passed the west side of Morris Hill.

Until Americana Boulevard was built, Crescent Rim was another route to the cemetery. As the story goes, this proved problematic for one resident, Dr. Koelsch. He built his Crescent Rim cottage in the early 1930s.

Koelsch was an avid gardener who was often in his front yard when funeral processions passed by. He would stop his planting and stand, his hat doffed. He built the white brick wall that remains today at 3216 Crescent Rim so that he could garden uninterrupted without disrespecting the dead.


William Lindsay, 15, was the first person buried at Morris Hill after the cemetery opened in 1882. According to cemetery records, he died what must have been a difficult death of "scrofula," a tuberculous infection of the lymph nodes in his neck.

You can find his grave amidst other Lindsay stones in the cemetery's oldest section near the corner of Roosevelt and Emerald. The stone, adorned by a pair of clasped hands, isn't vertical anymore. It's not located exactly where records say it is, but it's worth the search. Cemetery staffers have recently cut back the grass that grew up around it.

Some other causes of death listed in the burial record the year young Lindsay died: snow slide, gunshot, poison, falling tree, falling rock, steel car accident and la grippe - another term for influenza.

Boise Mayor James Pinney was responsible for the cemetery. In the 1880s, Pioneer Cemetery on Warm Springs was the city's main burial ground. Pinney wanted to expand. He paid $2,000 of the city's money to buy 80 acres from landowners William Ridenbaugh and Lavinia I. Morris, widow of William Morris, for whom the area was named.

At the time, the purchase was controversial. More than a century later, Boiseans regard the cemetery as hallowed historic ground and one of the city's most tangible records of its residents.


Liz Hardesty was involved with a project in the 1990s at Morris Hill to honor some of those Boise residents.

Hardesty has deep family roots in Boise's Basque community. Her grandfather ran the DeLamar, a Downtown boarding house on Grove Street.

In the 1980s, a delegate from the Basque country came to town. He knew that his grandfather had died in Boise and asked to see his grave. Boise Basques found the gravesite at Morris Hill. It was unmarked, so members of the community hastily put up a marker in time for the delegate's visit. He called his family in Spain from Morris Hill to tell them he was standing at their ancestor's grave, said Hardesty.

The experience prompted members of the Basque Center to wonder about other unmarked Basque graves - and led to a three-year effort to find them. Volunteers matched 60 death records to unmarked burial sites. In many more cases, the searchers found death records but could not match them with exact sites at Morris Hill.

Dorothy Aldecoa grew up in a Basque boarding house in Emmett and maintained close ties to the Basque community. In 1997, she paid for 60 individual markers for the individual graves. Aldecoa also paid for a large stone monument that stands in the St. John's Cathedral section of Morris Hill. It lists the names of Basques whose graves are lost.

Many of those listed on the marker died in 1918. That was the most virulent year of the Spanish flu epidemic. It hit the Basque boarding house community especially hard because people lived in such close quarters.

One recent visitor to the monument left a letter in a sealed plastic bag, said Hardesty. The writer was the grandson of one of the men listed on the stone.

"I'm here," it read. "We shed tears for you."

For those who want to become part Morris Hill's continuing history, burial plots are still available.

Æ Memorial Day: The Idaho Civil War Volunteers will conduct their annual Civil War flag-raising ceremony, eulogy, and gun salute in the Silent Camp at the Veterans Monument at 1 p.m. in Morris Hill Cemetery, 317 N. Latah St. Boise.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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