LINCOLN, Maine — Technically it is a violation of a town ordinance, but an unidentified man will not be cited with illegally burying a relative in the West Broadway cemetery, officials said Saturday.
Ron Weatherbee, town director of cemeteries, parks and recreation, said that the man that town cemetery maintenance worker Ted Martin saw digging out an unused town burial plot on Aug. 11 and leaving a small box of ashes told Weatherbee on Friday night that he would pay the $50 fee to bury his elderly relative appropriately.
“Proper paperwork has been done and I will have the cremation dug up and placed in the family plot,” Weatherbee said Saturday. “The gentleman did not know the town ordinance and was very apologetic. All is well.”
Town regulations require payment of $50 to $150 for unused plots in town cemeteries and that a town worker attend funerals to ensure that graves are dug properly and burial records are accurate, Weatherbee said. To ensure the correctness of town records, several Mattanawcook Academy students identified all the marked graves in town cemeteries as part of a public service project in 2010 and 2011.
Martin was attending a burial service in the graveyard on Aug. 11 as part of his job when he saw the man and a woman at a nearby plot, Weatherbee said. The man was digging and the woman was holding the ashes, which eventually were placed in the fresh-dug grave, Weatherbee said.
A 30-year town employee charged with digging graves and seeing that the right people are buried in them, Martin was quite surprised to see somebody else hefting a shovel in the graveyard unattended, Weatherbee said.
Weatherbee said he was equally astonished when Martin told him on Monday what he saw. Weatherbee and Martin were somewhat apprehensive when they approached the gravesite on Tuesday.
“When we dug it up, we did not know if it was a person, an animal or whatever,” Weatherbee said.
Another question was whether the person cremated died of natural causes or foul play, Weatherbee said, but they dismissed that concern almost immediately. Anyone doing anything nefarious probably would not have done it so openly, in broad daylight, he said.
One of the reasons for the surprise, said Steve Clay, Town Council chairman and owner of the funeral home that assisted with the cremated remains, is that the man, who was burying a relative, put the ashes “on the wrong side of his family’s stone.”
“It was just a matter of the plot being behind the stone or in front of it, and he just put it on the wrong side inadvertently,” Clay said Saturday. “The guy put the remains in the wrong place. I don’t think the guy was doing anything malicious. In his defense, there’s nothing there [in the graveyard] that says you need someone from the town to be there.”
The illegal burial is not as unusual as it seems, said Police Chief William Lawrence, who consulted with Weatherbee and Martin on Monday. Lawrence’s research showed that no state law was violated with the burial and that several nearby towns have no regulations regarding how people get buried in public cemeteries, Lawrence said.
Still, Lawrence, Martin and Weatherbee, who between them have about 70 years of experience in their professions, said they have never seen a burial handled by a family member.
“Here in Lincoln, it is kind of uncommon for people to dig their own family graves because we have to have somebody there from the town to make sure the grave is in the right spot,” Clay said. “In some of the smaller towns it is common for people to dig their own graves.”
A member of the town’s cemetery committee, Clay said he thinks the committee should discuss whether to place signs in town graveyards saying that all burials must be attended to by cemetery workers.
Weatherbee and Martin saw by the markings on the box that the ashes were those of an elderly man who recently had passed away. They placed the remains back in the grave. During the week, they consulted with Hervey Clay, patriarch to Clay Funeral Home of Lincoln, who said that his business had handled the man’s remains recently.
Clay gave them several leads and Weatherbee identified a family member Friday who he believed was involved in the burial, he said. He declined to identify the family, he said, to spare its members embarrassment.
Follow BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. on Twitter at @NickSam2BDN.