CHARLESTON - Bone fragments found by visitors at the county-maintained Oak Grove Cemetery have County Commissioners rethinking rules for selecting plots there.
The pieces of bone were recently found laying on the ground and not near any freshly-dug graves, but their discovery was still somewhat disturbing.
"I think it might come to the point where you stop burying in the old section," said Presiding Commissioner Jim Blumenberg during the regular County Commission meeting Thursday. By the end of the discussion Blumenberg suggested the county "just close it off" to any more burials in the old section after the first of the year unless someone had previously arranged to be buried next to a family member.
The cemetery was established around 1887 near where the county poor farm was once located. The county now owns 80 acres there, some of which is occupied by the highway department complex. The remaining 26-27 acres are rented as farmland with additional land being added to the graveyard as needed.
County residents may purchase a plot in the Oak Grove Cemetery for $150 and non-residents for $300, according to DeLay.
"All they buy from us is a right to a plot," Commissioner Homer Oliver said. "If you don't mark your corner and keep it clean, someone's going to get your plot."
A plat map recording the location of purchased plots in the newer sections of the cemetery used to kept by county officials at the old courthouse which burned down Feb. 10, 1997. "That was lost and we haven't done anything since," DeLay said.
There were no records for the old sections, although the local genealogical society did a walk through and compiled findings gathered from headstones which was then presented to the county.
"They did that years ago," DeLay recalled. There is, however, "no record at all of unmarked graves," he said.
Without records of grave locations, many are lost as memories fade or those who remember the locations die.
When a purchaser wishes to reserve or use a specific plot in the old section, "they first probe it," DeLay said. They then use rods to try to determine if there are any human remains in the selected spot.
If the caretaker were to come across bones, he would stop digging and instruct the family "to select another spot," DeLay said.
Oliver said there are many people buried around the county without headstones because their families could not afford them.
Commissioner Martin Lucas said during the depression years it is likely many area residents were buried without caskets or boxes of any kind. Without concrete vaults, commissioners agreed it is likely there is not much left after 75 years even for those buried in a casket.
During a March 2002 meeting, commissioners discussed a request from a former county resident living in Kansas City for help finding her grandmother who was buried in 1941. Officials were unable to offer any assistance other than suggesting she check with the funeral home.
In other county business:
* The courthouse will be closed at noon Thursday and all day Friday for Christmas, and will be closed Jan. 31 for New Year's Eve.
* DeLay said there is "nothing itemized" on the invoice for the new fuel tanks at the county airport to help them register the tanks with the Department of Natural Resources.
The county has "no worries at the highway department because that's all above ground," Lucas said.