by L. Kay Gillespie
[p.207]In 1987 the old cemetery at the Utah State Prison was excavated. The graves of inmates who had died in prison had been moved twice before—once from the Sugarhouse prison to Point of the Mountain and again from there to make way for Interstate 15. Unmarked and untended, the graves were moved a third time to a permanent place in the Salt Lake City cemetery.
We will probably never know exactly how many inmates were buried in prison, nor all their names. We do know, however, that among them are Fred Hopt, Enoch Davis, Frank Rose, Jules Szirmay, Nick Oblizalo, and Edward McGowan.
We also know that Joe Hill is not among them. After his cremation most of his ashes were scattered. One envelope found its way to the National Archives and was eventually given to the International Workers of the World (IWW) in 1988. In 1991, the ghost of Joe Hill revived briefly as the IWW commemorated the 75th anniversary of his death.
Unremembered and unforgiven, the majority of Utah’s [p.208]executed men lie in obscurity. Perhaps it is better this way. Heartache and sorrow accompanied the crimes and deaths of these men and their victims.
I have stood outside the houses where their unfathomable crimes took place—quiet residential areas, bustling business districts, and lonely stretches of highway. Many of the buildings no longer stand, others are dilapidated, while some still have people living in them—people who are oblivious to the terrible tragedies that occurred in their bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms.
I have stood on the sagebrush flats of Sage Hollow where Patrick Coughlin was executed by firing squad; in windy Mountain Meadows where John D. Lee died sitting on his coffin; and on the bench above Tooele where Robert Sutton was executed and buried. I have interviewed those who were present at executions, including one who as a young boy was taken by his father to stand outside the prison wails while Joe Hill died inside. I have stood beside the gurney on two separate occasions as men were quickly and quietly strapped down to die.
I have climbed to the old culvert where the body of John Stallings was discovered after Eliseo Mares dumped it in the ditch near Hoytsville; visited the grave of Constable Stagg who died at Palmer’s cabin; and paid my respects at the graves of other victims. I have visited with the families and friends of victims and come to feel the sense of tragedy and sorrow that accompanies such losses.
I have found many of the graves of the men who paid for these losses. Several are buried near family and loved ones—including some who were their victims. Many others lie totally forgotten.
In my mind are many nagging, unanswered questions about the place of capital punishment in society. Questions about the why’s and how’s of crime; about trials, guilt, and sentences; about what it means.
I have no doubt that we will continue to sanction capital [p.209]punishment. There should, however, be a method whereby we learn something from their deaths.
The answers, like the questions, are complex. Yet in some fundamental way they may be as simple as this poem (which hangs on my wall) written in 1979 by David Allen Osborne while on Idaho’s death row:
How I came to be here
God please let others see
Let them have a chance to change
Before someday they are me
For how I came to be here
Is a story both long and short
Because of many mistakes I’ve made
I was sent here by the court
Just how I came to be here
Is contained in some report
Of how I’ve wagered and how I’ve lost
And broken some rules for sport
Yes how I came to be here
It’s all been written down
So let them see what becomes
Of a man who plays the clown
Yes it is written there for all to see
So let them read it all
Before they end up just like me
Behind some prison wall
But how I came to be here
Should be quite simple to tell
One does not get to Heaven
When he walks the Road to Hell!