Hoboken woman recovers grandma's remains from old Secaucus cemetery

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

By Steve Strunsky
Associated Press Writer

When Alfoncina Pansini died 75 years ago, authorities who apparently could not reach her family buried her in a Secaucus cemetery, where for decades her remains lay lost.

But now that 3,500 graves are being moved to make way for a New Jersey Turnpike interchange, a granddaughter is finally claiming Pansini's remains for a funeral Mass and proper burial in the family plot.

On Friday, a state judge ruled that Diane Brulee could reclaim the remains of her grandmother, who died of a kidney ailment in 1928, at age 42, while living in Hoboken.

The ordeal has left Brulee with emotions she calls "crazy mixed."

"It is in a way kind of happy because she is coming back home, instead of wondering where she was," she said.

The bad part: "Just the fact that she was in potter's field in the first place."

The case is one of the few smooth spots in a bumpy ordeal to relocate thousands of remains that lay in the way of the Turnpike's $250 million Interchange 16X project to serve New Jersey Transit's Secaucus Transfer Station rail hub.

Turnpike officials are still seeking a final resting place for the remains, after canceling a $150,000 deal last month with a bankrupt old cemetery in North Bergen, where bone fragments were found in the area intended for the Turnpike remains. The New Jersey Cemetery Board is looking into the matter, a board spokeswoman, Genene Morris, said yesterday.

John Keller, the Turnpike Authority's project manager for 16X, said the remains removal should be complete, and construction should begin, by mid-October.

Brulee, 55, who was born in Hoboken and lives in Jersey City, is from a Catholic family, and her grandmother's burial without a funeral Mass or even a known gravesite had left a painful legacy.

So when Brulee learned from news reports that the Turnpike Authority was moving thousands of graves from the old Laurel Hill Cemetery in Secaucus, which Hudson County had used as a potter's field, she thought her grandmother's remains might be among them.

After some research, including checking a Web site,, she found her grandmother's name - misspelled - on a list of people who had been buried at Laurel Hill.

She contacted the Turnpike Authority, which assisted her in Superior Court in Jersey City, where plans for the massive disinterment project were filed.

After being presented with positive statements from an osteologist, or bone expert, Judge Thomas P. Olivieri granted Brulee's request on Friday.

Brulee said Turnpike officials had been "unbelievably helpful."

She anticipates burying her grandmother's remains within two or three weeks at Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City, where her father, John Pansini, is also buried in the family plot.

Keller, the interchange project manager, said that other hopeful relatives had come forward, but that Pansini's remains may be the only set that ends up being claimed.

"I'm glad that were able to make this match," Keller said. "I wish we could have with more people."


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