LAKEWOOD, Wash. – A Civil War veteran buried anonymously at the old pioneer Western State Hospital more than a century ago will be honored at his gravesite on Saturday, Sept. 12, by a volunteer group dedicated to restoring identities to the patients buried in the numbered graves in the old cemetery.
“At the time, society thought it was doing these patients a favor – shielding their identities from the ‘shame’ of mental illness,” said Laurel Lemke, who chairs the Grave Concerns Association behind the cemetery restoration. “Today, we believe we are righting an historic injustice by giving them back their names and histories.”
Charles Wesley Cooley is the Civil War soldier who will be honored during the 1 p.m. public dedication. Western State Hospital Chaplain John Johnston will preside at the ceremony, which will include a Fort Lewis color guard, and 4th US Infantry Company C Civil War re-enactors.
Cooley’s descendents – family members from California, Oregon, Seattle, Everett and Goldendale – have been invited, including two great-grandchildren in their 70s and Hans Becker of Newport Beach, Calif., who will talk about his research into Cooley and his life story.
Lemke said she was originally contacted this spring by Becker, who wanted to locate “Chester” Cooley’s gravesite. Lemke traced the burial to Marker No. 200 – which will be replaced on Saturday with a bronze marker that includes Cooley’s name and service record: Company G, 49th Infantry Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, part of the “Buckeye Vanguard.”
Cooley enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private in Ohio on Aug. 18, 1861, and fought throughout the war. He was mustered out as a full sergeant in Texas after the war ended. Along the way, he took part in some of the most celebrated and desperate battles of the war, including Shiloh, Chickamauga, Franklin, Nashville and the campaign to capture Atlanta.
After the war, his family moved from Missouri to Goldendale in Klickitat County in Washington state. In 1889, he became ill and was taken to Western State Hospital twice over the next two years. He died there in 1891 and was buried in the old cemetery with only a plot number to mark the spot.
This will mark the fourth family-initiated event that Grave Concerns has arranged since the group began replacing markers in 2004. Following media coverage earlier this year about the group’s activities, Grave Concerns has received an increased number of inquiries from families hoping to find patients’ graves. In October, 55 additional name markers will be placed in the cemetery.
Cooley’s is the first military marker in the cemetery, which lies across Steilacoom Road from today’s hospital. It was closed to burials in 1953. Cooley’s official bronze marker was provided by the federal government, and the Mountain View Cemetery of Lakewood provided the concrete setting, honor flag and guest book for the family.
Patients at the modern hospital — Club 67+ at the Treatment and Recovery Center in the hospital’s Center for Forensic Services – worked with Grave Concerns Treasurer Rosemary Chaput to plan Saturday’s event. Bernie Bateman, a director of the Historic Fort Steilacoom Historical Association and commander of the Civil War re-enactors, has arranged a special tour of the nearby fort museum for family members. The Western State Hospital Historical Association museum will also be open for family members.
The Grave Concerns project has also been supported with funding from the Mental Health Transformation Project. The project, funded by a five-year federal grant, is reviewing state mental health delivery systems and process improvements at all levels of government, including ways to reduce the stigma of mental illness that still interferes with health care today. The Greater Puget Sound Consumer Coalition, mental health consumers from King and Pierce counties, have joined forces for work at the cemetery.
Upcoming events planned by the Grave Concerns Association include:
- 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, installation work party to identify gravesites and to honor the patients buried there in a ceremony that also marks the beginning of Mental Illness awareness Week.
- 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 24, cemetery restoration work will be part of Make A Difference Day sponsored by the City of Lakewood Youth Council.