A Capitol Tragedy: Idaho History That Hits Home

Mar 22, 2017

The Idaho State Capitol in Boise attracts many visitors with its historic paintings and artifacts. And then there are the stories. The tale of the boy who falls to his death strikes some as an urban myth. But if you step into the offices of the Attorney General, there’s some evidence to back it up.

 

 

It’s a couple of newspaper articles from 1926, framed side by side and hanging in the office of Janet Carter, an executive assistant. The article is from the Idaho Statesman and is dated December 19, 1926. It reads:

"Grant Ward, nine-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Clarence T. Ward, 1709 W. Franklin St., fell to his death in the rotunda  of the statehouse at 12:45 p.m. Saturday. The boy’s head was crushed by the fall of 40 feet and he died on the way to the hospital."

What these clippings reveal is that one of Boise’s most popular urban legends is, in fact, true.

 

In 1926, just a week before Christmas, Grant Ward was delivering papers to the Capitol building’s fourth floor when he decided to slide down one of the stairwell’s wide, marble banisters. It was a Saturday afternoon, so the statehouse was nearly empty. Suddenly Grant lost control on a turn and slipped, falling all the way to the ground floor and hitting his head on a mineral display. He died within an hour, en route to St. Alphonsus.

This is the marble staircase Grant Ward attempted to slide down over 90 years ago.
Credit Erin McClure / Boise State Public Radio

The newspaper articles might seem like a curious choice for office decor. But Carter disagrees.

 

"I think it’s pretty significant, it’s history, it’s Boise at a gentler time, if you will."

 

It’s been more than 90 years since Grant Ward’s fatal fall, and the story’s retelling often takes on a sensational tone. Adults and children visiting the Capitol building regularly ask about the little boy who died.

 

Michelle O’Brien, who works at the Capitol, says they’re usually misinformed.

 

"Some hear it was a grown man, some hear it was a little bitty boy," O'Brien says. "All kinds of stuff, that he was pushed, that he fell . . . being an urban legend, it has grown in what it actually is."

 

Visitors also ask, is it true that the boy’s blood still stains the marble? Building guides debunk this one most of all, but the rumor persists.

 

Michelle O’Brien says, "There is a red staining that's occurring in the marble in a few places and it is natural to the nature of the marble -- it has iron in the stone, and that will rust throughout time. Once you see that, and they don't hear why it's actually there, then they do just believe it's the bloodstain from the little boy."

 

Although it’s not true that Grant’s blood is still on the marble, it doesn’t make his death any less tragic. So why does Janet Carter, who’s worked in the Capitol for more 20 years, have these newspaper stories hanging in her office?

 

"I wanted to pay homage and provide respect for my uncle."

 

Carter was in elementary school when she first heard the story of the young boy who fell to his death in the Capitol building. But she had no idea the boy was her uncle. Family members almost never discussed the event. It was just too difficult.

 

"The family was never the same," Carter says. "My grandfather, my mother tells that my grandfather . . . would not allow . . . Christmas carols to be sung after that. And Grant had played the piano, and it just, it was a terrible occurrence of course, losing a child."

 

Following their loss, the family was bereft. To assuage their grief, they had another child -- a daughter, named Judith. That’s Janet Carter’s mother. Judith grew up knowing very little about her older brother and even less about the details surrounding his death.

 

When Janet Carter first began working in the Attorney General's office, she brought in the Historical Society to help her uncover what had happened to her uncle Grant. That's when she found the newspaper articles, and the full story. She says sharing her findings with her mother Judith was cathartic."

 

"It was very emotional," says Janet, "and I think it gave her more of a connection with her sister at the time and her brother, who were still living. It opened up a dialogue about their history and the beginnings of the family."

 

Janet is grateful for opportunities to dispel the rumors surrounding her uncle's death and share Grant's true story. She even welcomes a steady stream of visitors who want to see the historic clippings for themselves.

 

 

The newspaper article from the Idaho Statesman that documents Grant Ward's fall to his death is framed in Janet Carter's office at Statehouse.
Credit Erin McClure / Boise State Public Radio

"I think it's given people some information they didn't have, instead of the rumors," Janet says.

 

These 90-year-old articles give visitors a more accurate glimpse into historical event that has become legend. For Janet Carter's family, they serve a greater purpose, as history brought back to life has put some rumors to death, and given Janet's family the opportunity to reconnect and heal.

 

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