New Jersey
Old burial grounds will be excavated

Turnpike gets a new Secaucus interchange

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Star-Ledger Staff

The poor, the sick and the mentally ill buried at a long-forgotten potter's field in Hudson County may finally rest in peace.

A judge in Jersey City yesterday approved the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's request to disinter bodies in the old burial grounds in Secaucus to allow the highway agency to construct a new interchange that will serve a railroad transfer station and commercial development.

The plan will give a Succasunna man a chance to find the grave of his grandfather, who was buried there with thousands of others when a complex of county institutions, including various hospitals, a mental institution and alms house, occupied Laurel Hill.

The Turnpike Authority was given permission 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, whose opening has been delayed until later this year, will be a hub for northern New Jersey rail transit. There also are plans for nearby office towers, hotels and retail space in a private development venture known as Allied Junction.

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

He said he arrived at that conclusion after visiting the abandoned graveyard and finding it to be in deplorable condition.

"The only word that comes to mind is disgraceful," the judge 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, initially was despoiled and covered with fill when the original eastern spur of the Turnpike was built alongside Laurel Hill. It was disrupted once more when the county built a correctional facility 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 reinterred in up to 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 to be erected at the potter's field will identify the site as a former burial ground and direct any visitors to the cemetery in North Bergen.

Olivieri said the reinterment will allow any remains found at the potter's field to be reburied "with the respect and honor that they deserve in a resting place that is fitting."

Turnpike engineer Robert Grimm said the graveyard project will cost about $5 million, and the disinterment is to be finished before construction of the interchange is scheduled to begin in August. Completion is projected for mid-2005.

The resolution of the graveyard issue pleased Patrick Andriani, who is trying to find the grave of his immigrant grandfather, Leonardo Andriani, who was buried in the potter's field on New Year's Eve in 1948 in a grave with marker No. 6408. Despite the Turnpike's initial safety and liability concerns, Andriani will be allowed to be present when the Turnpike's disinterment contractor, the Louis Berger Group Inc. of East Orange, excavates the area where his grandfather is believed to be buried.

"I'm just so glad that it's moving ahead," Andriani said after yesterday's court session. "I want to be able to find my grandfather and give him a proper burial."

Copyright 2003 The Star-Ledger.

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