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Garden City Has Links to Some of Idaho’s Spookiest History

by | Oct 13, 2020 | Culture and History, Family

Garden City’s location and history as a gambling town puts it at the crossroads of a number of colorful stories — a crossroads that leads to some of the spookiest stories in the state. So whether you’re gearing up for Halloween under a rare blue moon or getting ready to mark Día de los Muertos, get ready: We’re about to dive into tales of pioneers and one of the most notorious episodes in Treasure Valley history.
The Ghosts of Fort Boise

Major Pinkney Lugenbeel, a U.S. Army officer, led a cavalry company to what is now Boise in 1863 in search of the perfect site for a new fort. Lugenbeel and his men camped on Government Island in the Boise River, which eight decades later would become part of what is now Garden City. (The course of the river has changed since the 1860s, so the island is roughly where Joe’s Crab Shack is today.)

Once Lugenbeel decided on a location for Fort Boise — where the VA Hospital in Boise is now — Government Island remained a working part of the Army’s operations. Soldiers grew hay there to feed the fort’s many horses, inextricably linking the historical fort to modern-day Garden City.

And according to some people, Fort Boise’s long-dead 19th century soldiers have never fully moved on to the other side.

The Fort Boise Military Cemetery is home to 247 people, many of whom lived and worked at Fort Boise and Government Island between the mid-1860s and 1906. In 1906, the cemetery had to be moved because Cottonwood Creek flooded its banks and threatened the graves of the dead. The cemetery came to its final resting place, so to speak, on Mountain Cove Road in the Fort Boise Military Reserve. Burials continued until 1913.

Could some of Garden City’s earliest American residents still lurk in the cemetery? For decades, people have reported shadowy figures around the small cemetery (including this author, who was on an early-morning run when the figure of a man walked from the cemetery across the road and vanished among the sagebrush). The most well-known figures are that of a woman and small children, who can be heard playing.

Garden City’s Ties to ‘Idaho’s Jack the Ripper’

In the 1950s, Garden City was a riotous town full of bars and gambling establishments. It was a place to have a good time, forget your cares, and spend a bit of your hard-earned cash.

That’s exactly what Cora Dean, a recently widowed woman, was doing when Raymond Snowden approached her at the Hi-Ho Club (where 3933 Chinden Boulevard is now) in 1956. Unfortunately for her, it would be her last night on the town. When Dean turned down Snowden’s advances, he slashed her, stabbing her 29 times. The similarities between the viciousness of her murder and London’s infamous mass murderer prompted the nickname “Idaho’s Jack the Ripper.” She was found by a paper boy in the alley behind the club the next morning.

As a Garden City Police officer studied the killing, he remembered a man he had arrested who had threatened to kill his girlfriend in a similar way — Snowden. The police tracked Snowden down, discovered a bloody knife outside Hannifin’s Cigar Shop in Boise, and found witnesses who saw Snowden chatting up Dean.

Snowden was convicted, sentenced to death, and moved to Idaho’s Old Penitentiary in Boise. He spent the final year of his life 10 feet away from the indoor gallows where he would be hung in 1957.

You might guess that Dean is the ghost in this story, but Snowden is the spirit that is still said to be active at the Old Pen. In a bit of poetic justice, Snowden’s execution did not go according to plan — no one had been executed by the state since 1940, and you might say officials were a bit out of practice. Snowden hung from the gallows for many agonizing minutes before finally dying. He was the last man executed by hanging in Idaho, but he makes his presence at the Old Pen known by leaving visitors with an unnerving feeling, scratching them, or even speaking to them.

A Rare Event This Halloween

Halloween in Garden City usually features community events like Trunk or Treat, hosted by the Garden City Police Department, or themed events at the breweries and wineries that make up the Craft Beverage Corridor. This year, of course, is different — but the heavens will still make this Halloween extra special.

On Oct. 31, we’ll experience a full moon on Halloween, an event that happens approximately every 19 years. But 2020’s Halloween will be a blue moon, or the second full moon in a month. The last time a blue moon was visible worldwide on Halloween was an astonishing 76 years ago, during World War II! We won’t experience a Halloween full moon again until 2039, so be sure to take a few minutes to appreciate this rare celestial appearance.

Celebrating Día de los Muertos

The tradition of Día de los Muertos is not “Mexican Halloween,” as it’s sometimes called, but it is celebrated around the same time. This religious holiday has become increasingly popular in the United States, with themed costumes and events and even movies like Disney’s “Cora,” but its beautiful traditions and colorful iconography reflect a sacred practice that binds families with their ancestors. 

Starting on Oct. 31, families create altars to honor relatives and friends who have passed. Families clean and adorn graves, stand vigil, and leave offerings of favorite foods and drinks on final resting places or home altars called ofrendas. This celebration of life — a stark contrast to death-themed Halloween — continues through the Catholic holidays of All Souls Day on Nov. 1 and All Saints Day on Nov. 2.

In a typical year, Garden City businesses and organizations would celebrate Día de los Muertos with cultural events and parties. This year, however, we’d encourage you to honor your friends and relatives at home.

Do You Have a Halloween Story?

Have you had a ghostly experience in Garden City? We would love to hear about it! Please share your story in the comments section below.

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