Turnpike, county negotiating on where to move bodies from Secaucus site

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

By Michaelangelo Conte
Journal staff writer

County lawyers and the Turnpike Authority are trying to come up with a plan to deal with the thousands of bodies in the abandoned Hudson County burial ground by the Turnpike's project to build a new interchange in Secaucus.

In preparation for the interchange, the Turnpike intends to move the roughly 3,500 bodies buried 1922 to 1962 in the cemetery's newer section, officials said. The Turnpike will disinter the bodies and move them to a mass grave at an undetermined location. Turnpike officials are now negotiating with the county for purchase of the 2-acre section off New County Road.

But records show the older section of the burial ground contains 6,000 to 9,000 bodies that were buried from 1880 to 1922. It may contain graves considerably older and possibly a slave burial ground, officials said.

The newer section is now covered by several feet of landfill, and the entire cemetery is overgrown beyond recognition.

"It is an emotional issue," said County Executive Tom DeGise. "I have asked the law department to talk to the Turnpike Authority on how to work with them and best solve the problem."

DeGise said the Turnpike Authority has offered to disinter and move all bodies in the cemetery if the county lowers its asking price for the 2-acre section it needs for the interchange.

"There is a little bit of guess work right now on what is actually there," said DeGise. "These were potters fields, and there is a chance there was an old slave cemetery there. What is certain is it is the final resting place for a lot of people and should be treated with respect. If the Turnpike is willing to handle the entire thing, that would be great."

During excavation of the newer section, the Turnpike will work with Patrick Andriani to help him locate the remains of his grandfather, Leonardo Andriani. Andriani, who has searched for his grandfather's grave for 20 , found records that indicated his grandfather was buried in the newer section of the site.

The cemetery used the burial ground people who died at nearby county institutions such as prisons and hospitals. Cemetery burial records go back to 1880, but Andriani said there was a "poor house" on the property as early as 1840, which indicated the possibility of older graves.

Andriani wantsthe bodies from the newer section to be moved to the older section.

"All they have to do is clear the old section, restore it, fence it in and let the Turnpike put the bodies there," said Andriani. "The county should bite the bullet and treat these graves with respect. They should step forward and say 'We have done the wrong thing for many years, now we are going to do the right thing.'"

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

Copyright 2002 The Jersey Journal.

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