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Ken Reeves

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Ken Reeves has heard all the jokes about people dying to get in to see him, but as the guy who digs the graves at Morris Hill Cemetery, he sees his job as something more serious.

For the past year and a half, Reeves has been the lead worker at the cemetery, where he mows turf, prunes trees and, yes, helps bury the dead. One day he might be fertilizing the 70-acre cemetery, the next he is working with grieving families.

Reeves and his crew oversee 39,000 grave sites at Morris Hill. That's in addition to maintaining the Pioneer and Military Reserve cemeteries, all three of which are owned by the City of Boise and managed by Boise Parks and Recreation. BW wanted to know what it is about working in a cemetery that keeps his interest in his job alive.

Do cemeteries make you nervous at all?

No. As a kid, I lived about 300 feet from an old cemetery in La Grande, Ore., and I would occasionally run through that thing at night, just to give myself the willies. But now, cemeteries don't bother me. They're actually very peaceful places.

How many graves do you dig in an average week?

We average about three graves a week. Last year we had about 170 funerals.

What's the most interesting aspect about digging a grave?

One thing you don't want to do is dig into a plot where there is someone already resting. So we have a map and a very long probe that I can drill into the ground. The bodies are generally in a concrete vault, so you know exactly where they're at. We never have a problem with getting into another person's lot.

Is there a tradition to the way people are buried?

Husbands and wives are buried as they're married, which means the man is always on the right. The majority of lots are positioned east to west, (feet to the east, and head to the west). Markers are placed so they can be read while not standing on the grave.

Have you ever had to disinter a body?

Yes. I had to disinter an infant who had passed away 60 years ago, and the family was all buried in Utah, so the elderly mother wanted to move the body to that site.

How many grave sites are there in Morris Hill?

We have approximately 39,000 lots. And we're probably 800 lots shy of being sold out. In addition, there are empty lots that have been pre-purchased by families but just haven't been used yet. I think around 34,000 of the lots are filled, so we still have some room left.

Ever notice any odd things going on?

You mean like ghosts? I've never seen any ghosts, and you know, I'm kind of a believer in the spirit world, so I'm open to it, but I haven't seen anything weird. I haven't even dug up anything odd, like a lost heirloom.

Do you ever hang out here at night, in the dark?

(Laughs) They don't pay me to be out here at night.

Do you like cemeteries?

I do. There's so much history there. It's amazing. You can look at some of these family lots and headstones and actually piece together the puzzle of the family tree and network. Also, the grounds are beautiful. You've got trees that are 150 years old. The history is fascinating. It's a peaceful place to work.

Have you learned anything from working here?

I think working in the cemetery, you don't take a lot of things for granted in your personal life. I think that's something I've really benefited from working here. A lot of other jobs become humdrum, but this job is never humdrum. There's something new all the time. It's really made me recognize that you can go at any given time. There are plenty of young people who are buried here who have passed earlier than they should have. We've got motorcycle wrecks, suicides, which are troubling. The infants get taken from us, too. It's pretty emotional when we bury an infant, generally because of how it touches the family.

When did Morris Hill Cemetery open?

1882 was the first official burial. I will say that burials did take place before then, in the 1860s and '70s. It's a mystery why. We're thinking that possibly this was a proposed cemetery so people started burying here before it was officially opened. I've also wondered if some of these people were simply disinterred from wherever they were buried before and moved here when it opened.

What famous people are buried here?

Sen. Frank Church, Peg Leg Annie (who owned a brothel in the late 1800s), Sen. Borah. We have a booklet with all this information that we give to people who want to do a walking tour of the cemetery.

What are some of the interesting names of people buried here?

Turnupseed.

Do people ever joke about the fact you dig graves for a living?

There hasn't been a lot of joking, but generally they do ask questions, like, "have you seen a dead person or a ghost?" Then there's the icky side, like "ewww." I think there's a stigma surrounding cemetery work, but what they don't see is the good stuff, like helping families through difficult and challenging times, helping them pick a lot for their loved ones. There's a lot of gratification that comes with the job.

Got any tips on cemetery etiquette?

Well, it's not a place to party or bring in your dogs to play Frisbee. It's a nice place for people to go walking and jogging, and we welcome that. Anybody who lives in Boise and hasn't seen the cemetery ought to come up and take a look at it.

Any nice memories?

I helped this elderly woman put flowers on her deceased husband's grave and she came by and gave me cookies the next day. That was really nice. Most people we work with are very thankful and respectful and appreciate what we do. It's a great community.

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