Territorial governor’s grave given a dignified restoration

Staff writerAugust 15, 2013 

Honor was restored to a long-dead territorial governor of Washington on Thursday.

Vandals had treated William H. Wallace with no respect. They had pushed over the granite tombstone of the 19th-century politician with so much force it crushed a concrete birdbath to pieces. The marker landed face first onto Wallace’s grave inside the old pioneer cemetery in Lakewood.

Few visit the small tree-filled graveyard on the grounds of Western State Hospital, and no one could say how long the gravestone had been lying defiled. Crews keep the grass mowed but only a few rotting wooden grave markers and cracked headstones remain. They memorialize some but not all of the 22 people buried there.

Wallace’s marker had stood out among the others: tall and wide with a long list of his accomplishments. In addition to being appointed the fifth territorial governor of Washington in 1861, he had been defense attorney for Chief Leschi, was appointed Idaho’s first territorial governor in 1863, a pallbearer for his political ally Abraham Lincoln and Steilacoom’s first mayor.

On Thursday morning, Steilacoom’s living and breathing mayor, Ron Lucas, watched as a crew from Premier Memorial wrapped straps around the 1,500-pound headstone and raised it from the dirt.

“This is truly an amazing historical figure,” Lucas, the town’s 37th mayor, said of his predecessor. The town of Steilacoom paid $1,000 to have the gravesite that Wallace shares with his wife, Luzena, restored.

The movement to have the memorial repaired started shortly after a Living History Day at historic Fort Steilacoom in April. At the event, history buff and former Idaho Lt. Gov. David Leroy portrayed Wallace, who is as much a part of Idaho’s history as he is Washington’s.

During the event Leroy and other historians noted Wallace’s grave, just steps away from the day’s activities, was in a condition unbefitting a historical figure of his magnitude.

After serving as Washington’s territorial governor Wallace was appointed governor of newly created Idaho Territory in July 1863 (until then it had been part of Washington Territory) by President Lincoln. Wallace served in that role until he was elected to Congress as a delegate from Idaho Territory in autumn of that same year.

Wallace and his wife were invited to accompany Lincoln to Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, but they declined because Mrs. Wallace was ill. Lincoln was assassinated at the theater that evening.

After serving as one of Lincoln’s pallbearers, Wallace ended his political career and returned to Steilacoom to resume his legal practice. When Steilacoom officially became a city in 1871 Wallace was elected mayor.

Wallace died in Steilacoom on Feb. 7, 1879, and was buried in the cemetery on the grounds of then Fort Steilacoom. His wife died in 1900. Wallace had been a Mason, and the group erected the large tombstone in 1951, replacing earlier versions.

The settlers graveyard where the Wallaces are buried isn’t the only one on or near the Western State grounds.

A former hospital cemetery on former Western State grounds holds 3,000 graves. The patients were buried with simple concrete markers bearing only numbers. Since 2004, Grave Concerns Association, a nonprofit group, has been working to replace the markers with names and dates of birth and death. So far they have added 1,400 names to the graves and internments.

Another cemetery adjacent to the pioneer graveyard once held the remains of 19 soldiers, the first buried in 1850. Their remains were moved to the Presidio in San Francisco when a building was erected on the site.

On Thursday, Premier Memorial employee Brad Perryman drilled two holes into the 50-inch-by-30-inch gravestone while fellow worker Randy Qualls pressed a measuring square against the bit. Owner Robb Stilnovich stood nearby as piles of granite dust gathered at Perryman’s feet.

Stilnovich relished the opportunity to restore the gravestone.

“You can’t be in my business and not be a closet history buff,” he said.

The men drilled two more holes in the monument’s base and inserted two 9-inch steel rods. They then coated the rods and the base with an industrial epoxy used in bridge building. The glue is stronger than stone, Stilnovich said.

Then, as a soft rain dripped down from the graveyard’s oak trees, the men slowly lowered Wallace’s marker back onto its base.

“It won’t be coming apart anymore,” Stilnovich said.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541

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