Here, Gone, and Coming Back
By Khaliela Wright
In Idaho, we often joke that to be considered a town, a village must have either a church or a bar and a post office. Presently, Viola lacks all three. According to the 2020 census, the metropolis of Viola comprises just 135 souls.
My earliest connection to Viola didn’t involve anyone counted among the living.
In 2002, after I moved to Potlatch, which is about ten miles northeast of Viola, I discovered the quickest route to my job in Pullman was via Viola Road. Atop a hill along the Washington–Idaho border about a half-mile from town, surrounded by rolling wheat fields that allow it to be visible for miles in all directions, is the cemetery. I would cut through the wheat fields, which enabled me to bypass the stoplights in Moscow and avoid what little traffic there is in the Palouse region. Night would fall before I left work and I drove home in the dark.
As I approached the cemetery one fateful evening, I noticed flickering lights of various colors bobbing and weaving among the tombstones. Having never been the least bit afraid of cemeteries, I pulled over to investigate the ghostly orbs. They weren’t ghosts after all, but fairies and flowers. Someone had adorned several of the graves with brightly colored solar lights. They were lovely. Atop the thin metal stems, fairies fluttered and flowers swayed in the breeze.
I chuckled at the thought that someone with less fortitude than me when it came to apparitions in the night was bound get a fright. [To read about a high-tech search for unmarked graves in Lewiston, see “Digging up the Past.”]
When the Viola Cemetery was established in 1896, plots cost three dollars. By 2004, there were 750 graves. Often, cemeteries will have graves marked something like “Palmer Baby” or the even less descriptive “infant.” But Viola has at least sixteen graves that are mostly not in proper plots and are marked “unknown” on the cemetery map, with no record of who is buried there, most of them from 1938. Had I realized this at the time, I might have been less eager to wander through the cemetery after dark.