An unceremonious upheaval of what should be eternal rest
Turnpike work forces relocation of graves from Secaucus cemetery
Monday, February 10, 2003
BY JUDITH LUCAS
On a barren strip in Secaucus near the eastern spur of the New Jersey Turnpike rests the remains of some 3,500 people, buried and forgotten for decades.
Yesterday, over the din of traffic, they were memorialized in an ecumenical service even as the New Jersey Turnpike Authority prepares to relocate the graves so the land can be used for the $500 million Secaucus Transfer Station.
Fifteen people attended the service and only Patrick Andriani of Succasunna and Bill Hastings of Bayonne came to honor long dead relatives.
"It's a shame that everything is about money, even the poor-people cemetery," said Hastings, whose great-grandfather James Brew died in 1884 and is buried in another section of the potter's field. His remains are not among those to be removed. "They were given a small plot of land and a proper burial when they died and even that is being taken away from them."
Former Secaucus Mayor Anthony Just also is not pleased that the burial ground once again is being disturbed. There are hundreds of bodies buried underneath a portion of the Turnpike, which was extended in the 1950s, and an abandoned Hudson County jail. Thousands more are buried in another part of the property known as Laurel Hill.
"They are doing an injustice to the poorest of the poor," said Just, who sat quietly in a back row during the 20-minute service. "We are standing on skeletons. This should have been respected. I hope what they are doing haunts the heck out of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority."
Andriani is grateful that at least now his grandfather will be buried in a decent place.
His family searched for 20 years before they learned in August that Leonardo Andriani was buried on Dec. 31, 1948, in the potter's field reserved for the sick, the destitute and the insane.
A longshoreman from Molfetta, Italy, Andriani is buried in plot No. 6408 and is among those to be moved to Hoboken Cemetery in North Bergen.
"At least we know where he is," said Andriani, who lamented that the burial ground had become a dump. "They were under five feet of garbage and dirt."
Next Tuesday, archeologists hired by the Turnpike Authority will start sifting through the red clay for remains, buried from the late 19th century to the early 1960s. Once removed, the remains will go into 3-foot containers, be put in vaults and then be reinterred in North Bergen.
The project will cost $5 million. John Keller, project engineer for the Secaucus Interchange Project, said the disinterment is one of the largest ever performed nationwide.
The authority plans to erect a memorial at the new site with the scant information available from an old ledger discovered along with a map of the potter's field in a Hudson County building in April.
Some of the dead are listed in the journal only by an initial, as baby or stillborn. Others are listed by body parts: a human left foot, hand or left upper extremity of an unknown person.
A decaying caretaker's cottage helped guide the authority as it sought to map out the grave sites on the 3-acre parcel bought from Hudson County.
Once the remains are removed, the authority will build a $250 million interchange between Exits 15E and 16E that will feed the new transfer station. Commuters from Bergen and Passaic counties -- whose trains end in Hoboken -- would use the station to transfer to Manhattan-bound trains along the Northeast corridor.
The authority will put a marker at the site to inform visitors of its history as a burial ground.
"This is something that had to be done," said Joe Orlando, spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. "It's unsettling, but more unsettling is the fact that 3,500 human beings are buried here for decades, littered with garbage."
Copyright 2003 The Star-Ledger.
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