Western Heritage Center Community Historian Elisabeth DeGrenier calls her 90-minute guided tour of Mountview Cemetery “Grave Side Stories,” and she imparted a number of them Friday during a “Hoof-it with a Historian” stroll.
Among the 26,000 folks who are buried there:
- Suffragette Hazel Hunkins Hallinan, described in an article published when she was 87 as a “hell-raiser” with a “surprisingly sharp tongue.” DeGrenier noted her husband, Charles Thomas Hallinan, is buried at her feet. His headstone notes he’s the “husband of Hazel.”
- Yellowstone County Sheriff James T. Webb, killed by horse thief William C. Bickford in 1908. DeGrenier has a photo of Webb’s graveside service held at the cemetery and attended by 2,500 people and Webb’s horse, Baldy. While the cemetery was much more dirt than grass then, young trees are also apparent in the photograph. “You can see,” she said, “they’re trying to beautify the cemetery.”
- The Brownings, Ruth and Walker, an early, prominent African-American family. She ran “Mrs. Browning’s Furnished Rooms” at 121 S. 26th St., a home unfortunately slated for demolition soon. “Go see it while you can,” DeGrenier urged. African-American men new to Billings would stay there for a few weeks, using the home “as a landing spot while they found a job and a place to live.”
- Jules Besinque, David Murray and Louis Kuhar, all buried in proximity to one another after perishing together in the Bearcreek mine disaster on Feb. 27, 1943.
- Olive Warren — known in Billings as Olive McDaniels — who made enough money running a brothel that she could afford to be entombed in the cemetery’s mausoleum, a handsome building constructed in the early 1920s of Alaska white marble. A century ago, brothels were so popular that a city directory listed them in prominently – “in bold, capital letters,” DeGrenier said.
- William Eilers’ monument is a tree, provided by the Modern Woodmen of America upon his death in 1896. Iconography can offer clues about the person’s death, DeGrenier noted: A broken limb on the tree probably indicates a son or daughter who died young. Eilers’ claim to fame: When the beer hall he owned was part of a larger fire during the 1880s, firefighters gave his establishment special attention, according to DeGrenier, because he provided them free suds while they doused the flames.
Cemetery Superintendent Lee Stadtmiller accompanied DeGrenier Friday, offering historic tidbits during the 90-minute walking tour. Central Avenue, on which Mountview Cemetery sits, was known until 1956 as Cemetery Road.
While many prominent residents are buried at the cemetery’s crest — Stadtmiller calls it “Knob Hill” — nearby is an unmarked mass grave, filled with people who died in Billings flu and smallpox epidemics.
DeGrenier said she enjoys the tours, which will be reprised at 10 a.m. Oct. 13 and 27. The tour costs $10, which includes a free pass to the Western Heritage Center.
She said she also appreciates the insights Stadtmiller offers. After all, he’s been on the job 18 years.
“He corrects me, when necessary,” she said with a grin.
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