Judge OKs disinterment to make way for turnpike hub

Monday, January 20, 2003

SECAUCUS (AP) - A judge approved the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's plan to dig up bodies from an old burial site to make way for a new interchange serving a railroad transfer station and commercial hub.

The authority was given permission Friday to disinter graves in an area of the potter's field where as many as 3,500 people could be buried. Any remains found will be reinterred at a cemetery in North Bergen.

The authority needs to excavate the site to construct a $235 million interchange between Exits 15E and 16E that will serve the new Secaucus Transfer Station along NJ Transit's Northeast Corridor Line.

The $500 million station will be a hub for northern New Jersey rail transit, and also serve planned office towers, hotels and retail space nearby. Its opening has been delayed until later this year.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Olivieri concluded the benefit for the turnpike, rail station and development projects outweighed society's "general concern about disturbing the dead."

The judge made his ruling in Jersey City after visiting the abandoned graveyard and finding it to be in deplorable condition.

"The only word that comes to mind is disgraceful," he said. "What I found, quite frankly, was an area that has been forgotten and, more disturbingly, disregarded. One would never know that there are people, men and women, residents of this county, buried there."

The old graveyard, used by Hudson County from the late 19th century until 1962, was covered with fill when the original eastern spur of the turnpike was built. It was disrupted again when Hudson County built a jail that is no longer used on part of the cemetery.

Olivieri said he was especially appalled by a basketball court on the jail property.

"It is one thing for a cemetery to be forgotten, not maintained, no grass, garbage, other debris," he said. "It is quite another for a basketball court to be built on top of an area that was once a burial ground."

Any remains found when the graveyard is excavated will be reburied in as many as 200 plots the authority has reserved in an unused section of the Hoboken Cemetery on Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen.

A memorial with the names of those known from burial ledgers and old maps is to be erected, and the turnpike will create trust funds for the perpetual care of both the memorial and reinterment site.

A marker at the potter's field will identify the site as a former burial ground and direct visitors to the cemetery in North Bergen.

Turnpike engineer Robert Grimm said the graveyard project will cost about $5 million.

The resolution pleased Patrick Andriani, who is searching for the grave of his immigrant grandfather, Leonardo Andriani, who was buried in the potter's field on New Year's Eve 1948 in a grave with marker No. 6408.

"I'm just so glad that it's moving ahead," he told The Star-Ledger of Newark. "I want to be able to find my grandfather and give him a proper burial."

Another family member, Gennaro Andriani, said he's optimistic of finding the body.

"I got a good chance to find him because it's buried 12 feet deep and the body may be preserved," he said. "If I'm lucky, I think I'm going to get my father buried."

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