Turnpike may allow access to remains

Friday, November 08, 2002

By Michaelangelo Conte
Journal staff writer

Persistence appears to be paying off for a former Hudson County man struggling to claim his grandfather's remains from the old county Burial Ground in Secaucus.

For more than two decades, Patrick Andriani, who was born in Jersey City but now lives in Succasunna, has been searching for his dead grandfather's grave. In July, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority told Andriani that his grandfather was buried at the Secaucus cemetery on New County Road.

The problem is, the Turnpike wants to move the 1,200 graves in the cemetery to a common grave somewhere else in the county to make way for a new interchange. Andriani says Turnpike officials have fought his request to be present during the excavations in order to search for his grandfather's grave marker and reclaim the remains for a proper burial.

At a hearing last week before Superior Court Judge Thomas Olivieri, Andriani said Turnpike attorneys remained hard-nosed about allowing him to locate his grandfather's grave. According to legal documents filed by Turnpike lawyers, "descendants of the dead do not have any legal rights or interest in or to the human remains of their ancestors," and the process of identifying bodies in the cemetery would be "financially unreasonable and burdensome" for the agency.

But Turnpike Executive Director Michael Lapolla said Monday that he has ordered Turnpike lawyers to "reach out to Mr. Andriani and meet with him and the engineers to see if we can bring this to a resolution to all our satisfaction."

"We understand Mr. Andriani's plight, and we will do our best when we are in the area to try to accommodate him, and hopefully we will be successful in locating his grandfather," Lapolla said.

Olivieri is in charge of reviewing the Turnpike's plans for moving the bodies before work can begin. Olivieri adjourned the hearing until Dec. 6, Lapolla said.

The judge gave the Turnpike a month to have its experts report back to him on how they plan to accomplish the disinterment.

Leonardo Andriani came alone to America in the 1920s and lived in Hoboken, where he worked as a laborer, sending money back to his family in Italy. He took ill on a Hoboken street in December 1948 and was taken to the county hospital complex in Secaucus, where he died on Christmas Eve. He was laid to rest in the burial ground on New Year's Eve.

Andriani said the judge's ruling and statements last week made him hopeful he would be able to reclaim his grandfather's remains. He added that he was buoyed by Turnpike lawyers' arguments.

"When you start saying that a person has no right whatsoever to the remains of his family members, you're not talking just about me anymore, you're talking about everyone," Andriani said. "You can't tell people they have no right to their mother's and father's remains, but that the Turnpike can dig them up and move them to a mass grave whenever it wants to."

He also said he was very excited about Lapolla's statement following the hearing, and he looked foreword to working with Turnpike officials.

He said he is currently putting together a plan for the excavation of the area where he believes his grandfather is buried beneath a grave marker with the number 6408.

In that one-third-acre section of the four-acre cemetery, Andriani wants the Turnpike to conduct a survey to determine where the original surface of the cemetery was. As much as six feet of fill has been dumped there over the years. The area was also disturbed in the late 1950s when the Turnpike was built through the cemetery.

Andriani wants mechanical excavation halted one foot above the original surface. Thereafter, he said, he wants the work to be continued manually until grave markers are uncovered. If his grandfather's grave and remains are located, he wants them taken to a funeral home for burial at a location to be decided by his father, Gennaro Andriani, 72.

Bodies in the burial ground are being moved at a cost to the Turnpike of approximately $4.5 million to make way for the $250 million Turnpike interchange to be built between Exits 15E and 16E.

Michaelangelo Conte can be reached at mconte@jjournal.com.

Copyright 2002 The Jersey Journal.

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