Weeds and falling crosses cover forgotten graves at historic Wyoming State Hospital cemetery

By Kayne Pyatt, Herald Reporter
Posted 5/29/24

One must wonder, when they view the historic Wyoming State Hospital cemetery, if anyone alive even cares about the poor souls buried there. The cemetery is a disgrace; there are nothing but weeds, …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Weeds and falling crosses cover forgotten graves at historic Wyoming State Hospital cemetery


One must wonder, when they view the historic Wyoming State Hospital cemetery, if anyone alive even cares about the poor souls buried there. The cemetery is a disgrace; there are nothing but weeds, fallen crosses and litter throughout the entire cemetery. The state of Wyoming should be ashamed.

Many local residents don’t even know where the historic cemetery is; it is hidden behind the huge Walmart building below Interstate 80. Before I-80 was built, that plot of land was connected to the rest of the state land area. Then it was maintained, and so were the lovely yards where the historic state buildings still reside.

If the Wyoming Department of Health and the Legislature execute their plan to demolish all but five of the historic buildings, will the landscape where the buildings sit end up looking like the State Hospital’s cemetery does today?

After that demolition, will I-80 travelers look up to what is now a lovely sight of brick buildings and green lawn and trees and see nothing but waste, gravel, overgrown weeds and bare land, with only five buildings sitting alone, hoping to be sold and renovated.

Will Evanston have an eye sore to be ashamed of due to the poor decisions of a few politicians?

I wonder why Rep. Lloyd Larsen is so adamant about having those buildings destroyed when he is a resident of Lander, not Evanston. One might wonder if there is something planned for that land, with dollar signs involved, that not many are privy to.

The five buildings that will be spared are due to the hard work of our local Rep. Jon Conrad (R-Lyman) who, on behalf of a citizens group, managed to convince the State Appropriations Committee and Gov. Mark Gordon to postpone the demolition for a year. This would give the  group and city council members, who voted to ask the state for the delay to provide time to put out requests for bids. The hope is for someone to purchase the buildings to renovate for housing and other uses.

Conrad managed to get the state to save at least five of the buildings. The state plans to start the demolition of the rest of the buildings this summer.

Many residents of Evanston do not realize that the land where the historic buildings stand has a lake where, in the past, patients could spend time fishing. There is a basketball court and beautiful trees and lawn.

The buildings planned for demolition have a huge commercial kitchen, a gymnasium, a chapel, a coffee shop, a library and more that could be utilized for a trade. Evanston desperately needs affordable housing, and some of those buildings, according to a Myers Anderson report, would be acceptable for renovation for housing.

Many Americans travel to Europe and the British Isles to see historic buildings and castles and to the ancient ruins of Africa, Egypt and Asia. If those countries’ leaders decided to tear down the “old” to make way for the new, it would destroy their tourist trade.

New and modern isn’t always better. Politicians and every citizen should treasure and value their country’s, town’s and city’s personal history. Historic buildings, cemeteries, artifacts are just a few of the ways we retain a connection with our ancestors. They provide us a glimpse into the lives of those who have come before us and helped to build a better and easier life for us.

Some years ago, my sisters and I traveled to Kansas, the state of our birth and early childhood. We visited cemeteries in Salina, where my father, baby brother and several grandparents are buried. We visited a cemetery in Hutchinson, where a baby sister who died of pneumonia during the depression is buried. We also discovered an historic cemetery in a farm field where our early ancestors are buried.

By reading the headstones, we learned previously unknown facts of family history. We toured the small towns where our parents and early ancestors grew up and saw the small office building, still there in Lyons, where our paternal grandfather had his tobacco and cigar shop.

We also stopped in to visit the local small-town newspaper and looked at their old news clippings pinned on a wall. They had a clipping of a story telling about that grandfather and his cigars, which were famous throughout Kansas, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

I treasure those findings, and I am grateful that the little town of Lyons, Kansas values their history enough to display historic news clippings and that the farmer who owns that wheat field where our maternal ancestors are buried plows around it instead of wiping that piece of history out. My sisters and I left Kansas with a renewed sense of belonging and connection to our family’s personal history.

When I look at Evanston’s historic State Hospital buildings, I remember how happy my mother was to be able to have a career there teaching bibliotherapy and helping the mentally ill. I also remember the shock treatments and lobotomies that some patients suffered through and think how far we have come in the treatment of the mentally ill. I am glad we have recorded history to show our progress.

Those historic State Hospital buildings and that forgotten cemetery have much to tell us. The buildings were built with brick and made to last for hundreds of years. Yes, terrible treatment of other humans happened in some of those buildings, but many people also found healing there and went on to have a better life. Too many of those patients were forgotten and lie buried beneath those weeds and fallen crosses.

Those buildings represent Evanston’s history. They not only gave sanctuary to the mentally ill, but they provided a place where local residents could work and provide for their families. They could continue to provide for the citizens of Evanston with affordable housing and opportunities for employment if more of the buildings were saved.

With vision, the city of Evanston could use those buildings to benefit our community. The forgotten cemetery could become a historical site, and families could visit and find forgotten ancestors — like my sisters and I did in Kansas.

It is such a lovely sight when you drive into Evanston from the east and you see those stately brick buildings surrounded by lush green landscape. I would hate to have that site end up looking like the forgotten cemetery. If only, the state of Wyoming’s legislature would stop the entire demolition — if only.