Back in June, City Cast Boise talked with citizen historian Graham McBride about the “Boys of Boise” scandal.
The scandal was one of Boise’s biggest introductions to the national spotlight in modern American history. The economic boom post-World War II was humming along, but the lines dictating who benefited from that boom were becoming ever clearer. In East Coast cities and in the South, Black soldiers were returning home, not to open arms but to worse segregation and treatment than they’d seen exhibited by their fascist enemies. Women were ardently agitating for social, economic, and political freedoms of varying degrees depending on their race. And Christianity was contrasted with the new global foe of communism.
Sleepy little Boise was paying attention. This story officially begins in 1955, which means that the “Lavender Scare” tactics of running LGBTQ+ people out of government positions — which were often part and parcel with the “Red Scare” — had been going on for a couple of years.
In October of 1955, a Boise police officer began investigating men who were allegedly having sex with teenage boys. The Idaho Statesman covered the allegations daily, and very quickly the investigation extended to consenting adults.
The moral panic brought national media attention, especially when the scandal increasingly focused on well-known men who, by all accounts, were only having sex with other adult men. When the Ada County sheriff drove to San Francisco in pursuit of one of these men, most of the town was ready for the saga to die down.
“Boise was known for the ‘Boys of Boise’ and I think it was embarrassing,” Alan Virta, a former Boise State librarian, told me a few years ago. “And people didn’t want to bring it up. Plus, the whole situation broke families up and caused a lot of grief in Boise.”
However, a Christian civic and service organization known as the Jaycees club dedicated itself to making a pronouncement of Boise’s allegiance to Christianity — and thus against communism and homosexuality. In December 1955, less than two months after the “Boys of Boise” scandal, they dug the hole that has since cradled the cross on top of Table Rock. By Jan. 8, 1956, it was finished.
At the time, that land was owned by the Idaho Department of Corrections. A 1971 ruling against a similar cross in Eugene, Ore. — due to a concern over having a religious symbol so publicly exhibited on publicly-owned land — worried the Jaycees. They asked to buy the land from the Board of Corrections, who turned it over to the Board of Lands, who auctioned it off to the Jaycees for $100.
Another two decades passed, and the ACLU argued that the public hadn’t been notified of the auction, but their argument was shot down. The news made its way to influential atheist Rob Sherman, in Chicago, who delivered a speech at Boise State drumming up support for legal action to remove the cross.
That backfired, and led to a crowd of 10,000 marching from the Boise Depot to the Capitol in support of keeping the cross, which is the largest political demonstration that I’m aware of in Idaho history (and I’ve been searching for years).
So the cross, though it’s had many cosmetic procedures, has stood for nearly 70 years now. It’s one of Boise’s most recognizable landmarks, though for many, what it communicates about our city’s values has often gone unquestioned.