Grave Stories: Touring Walla Walla’s Mountain View Cemetery

Shows graves at Walla Walla Mt. View Cemetery
Joanna Lanning at Mountain View Cemetery tells the story of the grave marker of Pardon and Lida Bentley who were rumored to be witches. Read Lanning's take on the story below. Credit T.J. Tranchell/NWPB

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Fallen soldiers, outlaws, bankers, a madame, and maybe even a couple of witches all reside in one place now. It isn’t the set up for a bad bar joke, though. 

Mountain View Cemetery in Walla Walla is the earthly home to these and other deceased figures.

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Joanna Lanning hopes you’ll come by and meet them. On June 1, 2019, about 100 people did just that. Lanning, in her fifth year working at the cemetery — and her 25th year as an employee of the city of Walla Walla — saw the history waiting to be discovered in the 80-acre cemetery.  She had to share it with as many people as possible.

Two guides talk about the people buried at the cemetery.

Sherrilyn Jacobson, left center, and Joanna Lanning, led a tour of Walla Walla’s Mountain View Cemetery Saturday, June 1. The post-Memorial Day tour focused on the many veterans buried in the cemetery as well as local history. CREDIT: T.J. Tranchell/NWPB

“The more you look, the more you open your eyes when you aren’t too busy,” Lanning said of working at the cemetery.

While not the first self-guided tours of Mountain View Cemetery, the current tours, which Lanning started in 2018, highlight the depth of history and normalize death and grieving. Her efforts led to new signage and a walking tour that the curious can do on their own, as well as materials about the symbols used on headstones. 

Tracing the history of symbols helped alleviate one rumor: There are no witches buried in Mountain View, just someone with a sense of humor and bad timing. According to Lanning, Pardon Bentley was the sextan (primary caretaker of the cemetery) in the late 1800s. He and his wife, Lida, lost a child young and later separated. Pardon had a humorous and cantankerous relationship with a mason who made headstones. A large concrete slab and stones were made before Pardon died and two blank sections were set in the primary marker. The blank areas were to have a morbidly funny saying engraved into them. 

 Around 100 people attended the June 1 tour of Mountain View Cemetery in Walla Walla.

Around 100 people attended the June 1 tour of Mountain View Cemetery in Walla Walla. CREDIT: T.J. Tranchell/NWPB

After Pardon died, the mason didn’t finish the job, leaving parts of the Bentley’s markers — including final death dates — blank. That gave the stonemaker the last laugh and unwittingly created a town legend. Lida lived beyond her estranged husband, and while her name is on the extravagant marker, she has her own headstone a few feet away under which she lies.

Among the symbols on the Bentley’s stone is a hand pointing down, which Lanning said led some to believe God was pointing souls to Hell.

“It’s actually God reaching down to bring them to Heaven,” Lanning said.

As the tour progresses, the Bentleys are overshadowed by other characters from Walla Walla’s history. 

“Ferd” J. Patterson

Another interesting tale is of Ferdinand “Ferd” J. Patterson. According to Lanning, he was a “self-proclaimed Confederate,” who was shot in a barber’s chair. The lawman who shot him escaped from jail, and Patterson’s grave was paid for by a girlfriend Patterson once “accidentally” scalped. The barber whose chair Patterson died in is buried less than 20 yards away.

“Dutch Jo” Wolf And Eva Baker

Then there’s the madame Josephine “Dutch Jo” Wolf. The madame’s grave, topped with a large cross, isn’t the only plot she owned in Mountain View. She also bought another plot for “her girls” as Lanning says in another area of the cemetery. Wolf was well-known for her philanthropic efforts, too. She funded the firefighter’s memorial in the cemetery, which has a replica in downtown Walla Walla.