MARSTON -- Since June, Associated Electric Co. Inc. has slowly but surely been working to transplant the remains from the graves of a New Madrid County family to another cemetery.
On Wednesday, the remains were finally removed from the Evans/Fitzgerald family cemetery near Marston to Lily of the Valley Cemetery at Pleasant Point, where other family members are buried.
The need to move the remains of the family came when Associated Electric in Marston learned a cemetery was located on the land it purchased south of Noranda Aluminum Inc. The land was going to be made into a landfill for some of the ash produced at the plant.
"This cemetery had been plowed over, and the owners didn't realize there was a cemetery out there. It has been used as farmland for the past 15 or so years," noted Bobby Hedgepath, funeral director for Richards Funeral Home in New Madrid who was assigned to move the remains.
A little notation of a cemetery on a map was the first indication the remains were still present on the land, said Associated Electric spokesperson Nancy Southworth.
"This is not an archeological find," Hedgepath said. "This is a known, existing cemetery. It showed up on maps and plats."
Hedgepath estimated the most recent remains date back to the 1950s and the oldest date to the turn of the turn of the century.
And the public shouldn't be surprised to learn of the grave removals. Southworth noted Associated Electric followed local regulations about the appropriate way to exhume bodies and rebury them.
In June, Associated Electric actually ran some notices in New Madrid County to alert people Associated Electric would be working on this site. A public meeting was also set in July to discuss the company's plans, but no one attended the meeting, Southworth said.
Associated Electric's order to go ahead with the cemetery removal was signed July 26. Once Hedgepath received the OK to remove the bodies from the ground, his first step was to put the 10 bodies' remains in disaster or body bags. He then transported the bodies to the funeral home, where they were kept like any other body and placed in the caskets, he said.
"We will put the remains in the body bags inside the caskets and bury them, and a monument will be placed in memory of those removed from the cemetery," Hedgepath said.
For Hedgepath removing the graves wasn't the amazing part of the whole process -- it was the dignified way Associated Electric has handled everything, he said.
"They didn't just go out and buy a piece of land and start dumping waste on it. They're going through the environmental processes and legal process and I'm really impressed with the way they're handling everything," Hedgepath noted.
Southworth said Associated Electric is just trying to do the right thing.
"We're in the process of trying to meet all the expectations for siting a landfill there," Southworth said. "What we were wanting to do was something that was respectful of the persons who had lived in that area and respectfully replace their graves."
And despite rumors of Native American artifacts also being found on the land, Southworth could not confirm whether this was true.
"Our first priority is to remove the graves and then we can go from there," Southworth said, adding there are several steps to the process of actually creating a landfill. However, an expert has already surveyed the land, Southworth said.
"We have done kind of a quick survey over the land, and in fact we actually have hired an expert who does this kind of work to do it for us and that produced the discovery of the cemetery.
Southworth continued: "He's going to be expected by us to do a further search of this property to see if anything else needs to be looked at closely."
Southworth said a date for the expert's second visit to the land has yet to be determined.