Ruling on graves buoys grandson

Wants to view disinterment from burial field

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Star-Ledger Staff

A Succasunna man's decades-long quest to find his grandfather's grave in an abandoned Hudson County burial ground was given new life yesterday by a state judge in Jersey City.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Olivieri said he lacked sufficient information to approve the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's plan to disinter an unknown number of bodies in the former graveyard in Secaucus, where the county once operated a hospital complex and alms house for the poor. The remains taken from the old potter's field would be reburied at a location yet to be determined.

Olivieri gave the authority a month to have its experts report back to him on how they plan to accomplish the disinterment and why they cannot accommodate the wishes of Patrick Andriani, whose immigrant grandfather was buried in the graveyard 54 years ago after his death at the county hospital complex. Andriani has asked to be present when his grandfather's remains are disinterred.

"I'm not denying the application; I'm not granting it. I just want more information," Olivieri said.

The judge scheduled another hearing for Dec. 6.

Andriani was buoyed by the ruling, which keeps alive a search he began two decades ago to find his grandfather's grave so he can retrieve the remains and give them a proper burial. Leonardo Andriani died alone in 1948 while the rest of his family was still in Italy.

"I feel really great," the grandson said after the hearing. "I just feel the judge has a heart for doing what's right and I'm very hopeful about that."

The Turnpike Authority needs to excavate a portion of the potter's field for construction of a $250 million interchange between Exits 15E and 16E that will serve the new Secaucus Transfer station on the opposite side of the Turnpike along NJ Transit's Northeast Corridor Line. The $550 million station, whose opening has been delayed until at least the end of next year, would be a hub for rail transit in the region. There also are plans for up to five office towers and a hotel at the station in a private development venture known as Allied Junction.

Earlier this week, the authority voted to spend almost $4 million to hire a consultant, the Louis Berger Group Inc. of East Orange, to provide experts in archeology, human remains and mortuary science. They plan to disinter a small sample of what could be the remains of as many as 3,500 bodies buried in 1,200 plots. The remains would then be reburied, most likely somewhere else in Hudson County, and a memorial marker would be placed at the new burial site.

Andriani wants to be present when the authority's contractor begins excavating the third of an acre in the Potter's Field where he believes his grandfather is buried in a plot with the number 6408 on a tile marker.

But the Turnpike's lawyer, Frank Journick, said the condition of the cemetery makes it "absolutely impossible in our view to identify any particular grave." Old survey markers are no longer there, he said, and over the years the graveyard has been disturbed by several projects, including construction of the Turnpike and a county jail annex that has since been closed. Some bodies were disinterred and reburied elsewhere in Secaucus years ago, the cemetery lies under several feet of fill, and the only visible remnant of the potter's field is a dilapidated gravekeeper's quarters.

Journick also raised questions about having Andriani present during the disinterment, including the Turnpike's liability and the intrusiveness of having him witness the unearthing of remains other than his grandfather.

But Olivieri did not seem swayed by the arguments.

"I do believe, as a general proposition, that Mr. Andriani has a right to be present at an appropriate time and at an appropriate distance," the judge said.

"I may not be able to find my grandfather's remains and give them the burial they deserve," Andriani told the court, "but for the Turnpike Authority to deny me that opportunity is wrong.

"This being All Saint's Day, I feel really hopeful," he said outside the courtroom yesterday. "I still believe we'll really be able to do this."

Copyright 2002 The Star-Ledger.

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