A surprising discovery in a Tompkins County cemetery. Officials report a series of unauthorized burials. Tamara Lindstrom tells us how caretakers found the graves.
CAROLINE, N.Y. -- A family in mourning hints at the first sign that something's amiss in the Caroline Grove Cemetery.
"A family wanted, when dad died, wanted him buried next to mom," said Barbara Kone, president of the Caroline Grove Cemetery Association. "We had no record of mom. And they said, well, we buried her right there on grandpa's grave. Well, we got researching and grandpa's lot was already full."
An unauthorized burial with no paperwork to send to the state, no fees collected and no record of a body. And it wasn't the only one.
"We know for sure of three. We've discovered them this summer," Kone said.
All of the burials were cremations. The ashes were buried by family members.
"They dig their own hole and did it themselves," Kone said.
Perhaps to save the two hundred dollar burial fee. Half of which, along with the certificate of cremation, must go to state authorities.
"So there's the vital record thing," Kone said. "We still are responsible for sending the state a fee for the burial."
Locating an unmarked grave is no easy task. But caretakers in Caroline have their own unique way of finding out what's buried beneath the surface.
"We can grave witch," Kone said. "It's like water witching."
A pair of straightened wire coat hangers held in grips made of ballpoint pen casings serve as divining rods.
"And as we slowly walk across ground that has been dug, they will cross. And when we get to the other side they straighten back out again so we can mark where the burial sites are," Kone explained.
The technique also helps grave diggers avoid accidentally hitting a casket. It's been used here since the 1970s and not a single grave has been disturbed since.
"There must be an explanation but I think it's something to do with the electrical currents in your body and the ground," Kone said.
As far as the unauthorized burials, that explanation falls to the living.
People who bury bodies without proper authorization could face fines or charges. Caroline officials have not yet determined whether they will proceed with those charges.