Great Grave


The Great Grave

The two-ton marble Great Grave slab laid in 1897 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Whitman massacre was one of the first cultural resources to concern National Park Service management. Just as the original grave of the massacre victims suffered from neglect, the Great Grave suffered a similar fate from time to time. Until 1962 a road led to the Great Grave from the park's east entrance and continued beyond to the neighboring farm. A parking area surrounded the grave as did a decorative iron fence. Cars turning around in the parking area would hit and damage this railing and Superintendent Weldon remembers that parties near the grave caused several complaints. [72] As a result, one of the notable accomplishments of 1952 was the clean up of "this hitherto somewhat weedy area" [73] and repairing the car-damaged railing that surrounded the grave. In 1962, as part of the Mission 66 development project, this road was converted to a trail and the surrounding parking area eliminated, [74] creating a more peaceful atmosphere in which to view the grave.

A proposal to change the Great Grave's appearance arose in 1950 and remained a possibility for years. Mr. W. D. Church requested permission from the National Park Service to add the first name "Walter" to the last name "Marsh" which was carved on the slab in 1897. [75] Regional Director Merriam approved the request provided the family paid the recarving expenses. [76] Although the project was abandoned in 1952 when the family failed to find a company able to carve the stone, [77] Superintendent Weldon agreed with Church that all the names should be recarved: "I told him this seemed to me a good idea and if the local people didn't get it accomplished I thought we ought to set it up as a Park Service project one of these days." [78] Indeed, this almost became a Park Service project in 1973 when Historian Erwin Thompson recommended recarving the 14 names on the marble slab to correct misspellings, to improve their visibility, and to remove the name of one person who did not die in the massacre. [79] The stone was not recarved, however, because of a later suggestion by Dr. Norman Weiss of Columbia University, an expert in the conservation of masonry structures. [80] The 1984 "Resource Management Plan" reported that "Dr. Weiss recommended polishing the raised letters, not only to improve its readability, but also to preserve the marble from accelerated weathering." [81] Superintendent Amdor agreed with the recommendation stating, "We're not going to change history. If [the names are] wrong its really a function, then, of interpretation to interpret that its wrong, not a function of management to fix mistakes to make it acceptable." [82] Therefore, polishing the stone remains the preferred method for preserving these inscriptions.

Dr. Weiss's principal contribution to long-term grave management was his recommendation for stabilizing the marble slab which was cracking due to sagging of the stone's center. Weiss stated, "There is no easy way to solve this problem without partial (or complete) dismantling." [83] Therefore, the goal was to install additional support for the center of the slab which would alleviate the stress and halt cracking. [84] Under the supervision of Regional Archeologist James Thomson and Regional Historical Architect Laurin Huffman, the contractors--Alderwood Contracting of Lynnwood--completed the rehabilitation on November 15, 1983. [85] With the slab on a secure foundation, cracking due to settling and warping will stop, although cracks may expand from frost. [86] Management of the grave now consists of annually monitoring the cracks and warps and comparing measurements from year to year. [87] Superintendent Amdor called the Great Grave rehabilitation "The most long-term cultural resource project we've done." [88]


Last updated: March 1, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

328 Whitman Mission Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362


(509) 522-6360

Contact Us