No rest for these forgotten dead

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

A public light fell on a forgotten cemetery in Secaucus only because the New Jersey Turnpike decided to build a new interchange at New County Road to allow motorists to reach the nearly completed $500-million rail transfer station, a hub for North Jersey rail transit. The light revealed a dark and shameful episode in Hudson County history.

About 3,500 people were buried in an estimated 1,200 graves from the late 19th century to the early 1960s. It was the final resting place mostly for those who died in county institutions, prison and hospital.

The cemetery was covered with fill from excavation for the 1950s extension of the Turnpike and with garbage put there by illegal dumpers. Although the county was to have removed them, it is surmised that there are graves under the Turnpike's eastern spur - a cheerful thought when driving on this roadway. Even a county correctional facility, no longer in use, was built over part of the cemetery.

In what has been described as one of the nation's largest disinterments, the remains are in the process of being moved into a mass grave in North Bergen. Those graves under the major toll road will probably remain. One difficulty is in trying to identify the remains. During the search for burial sites, a pile of identifying markers provided during the Turnpike extension work were found in a pile.

Because state law calls for disinterments to go before a judge, Superior Court Judge Thomas Olivieri in Jersey City reviewed the situation. "The only word that comes to mind is disgraceful," said Olivieri of the state of the original burial site. The judge was being kind.

If this whole affair hasn't disturbed the dead, it has disgusted the living. The Turnpike Authority plans to put a marker at the transfer station site to inform visitors of its history as a burial ground. It should include the callousness of the living for those who never had a chance to rest in peace.

Copyright 2003 The Jersey Journal.


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