Work party, ceremony May 30 for historic Western State Hospital cemetery

A group that has been working to restore patient names on their graves in an historic cemetery near Western State Hospital will be adding more markers and clearing weeds and brush on Sat, May 30, from 9 a.m. to noon. A hot dog-barbecue lunch is planned afterward.

Volunteers and the public are welcome to attend both the work party and an 11:30 a.m. ceremony at the cemetery, which is located in Fort Steilacoom Park. The Washington State Library will film some of the proceedings as part of a documentary planned on the project.

Association Chairperson Laurel Lemke said the group plans to install 25 more grave markers on Saturday, rain or shine.

Between 1876 and 1953, the graves in the historic patient cemetery were marked only by numbers because of the stigma mental illness carried at the time. The Grave Concerns Association formed not only as an effort to identify the anonymous graves but as a way of restoring the patients’ dignity and helping erase some of that stigma over time.

“This is an exciting opportunity for persons who have been impacted by mental health issues to join with community members in a meaningful way to help acknowledge a real person’s existence, as well as restore the page of history that included that person’s life,” Lemke said.

The work is supported by the Greater Puget Sound Consumer Coalition, which donated a grant that helped cover costs. Donations from the public also have helped, and Lemke said that people who want to contribute on Saturday are welcome to do so.

The old cemetery is across Steilacoom Blvd. S.W., from the hospital, 9601 Steilacoom Blvd. SW in Lakewood. Enter the cemetery from Steilacoom Blvd. S.W. at 87th Street. The cemetery is located across the road from the first barn, next to the dog park.

Come dressed to work and bring work gloves. Extra weed whackers, shovels, spades and hole diggers are welcome.