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Century Old Casket Is Reburied

A child’s casket washed out of a long abandoned cemetery near Oakland.

OAKLAND – A casket in an old family cemetery that came out of the ground last month due to erosion from adjacent land work was reburied in Guest Cemetery last Friday. The coffin, which likely dates back to the mid to late 1800s, had been buried in a plot in a long-abandoned cemetery, just west of the I-55 – Hwy. 32 intersection at Oakland.
Yalobusha County Coroner Ronnie Stark provided details of the unusual occurrence during the August 3 Board of Supervisors meeting, explaining that he was notified of the unearthed casket on July 6 by the sheriff’s department. Stark said he picked up the casket and transported it to a local funeral home to store until it could be reburied.
Citing research and input from people who have lived in the area for decades, Stark told county officials that there are numerous plots in what was possibly called the Jackson Family Cemetery. He said efforts to locate family members who have loved ones buried in the cemetery have been unsuccessful. He also said the small, cast-iron coffin likely contained the remains of a child.
Stark was seeking input from supervisors during the meeting as he noted the erosion problem could lead to more grave sites being disturbed at the cemetery, located at 28268 Hwy. 32. He noted that the cemetery is on a tall hill covered in kudzu on private property, just a few feet away from the highway right-of-way.
Board Attorney Shannon Crow first explained the county’s legal options on how to handle the unclaimed dead body, noting that his research indicated that the estate of the decedent or family members would pay to put the casket back in a grave.
“But we don’t know that, so then it falls back on the county,” Crow said as the identity of the body or potential family have not been determined.
The conversation also focused on the landowner’s responsibility in the matter, as the cemetery is on private property and development by the landowner was cited as the cause for the erosion.
“I told Ronnie, if it is not in his job duty to do this, tell the landowner, sorry it is your problem,” Crow advised if the problem continues at the cemetery.
“It is their problem,” Board President Cayce Washington added about the private property.
“Because it is not a public cemetery,” District 5 Supervisor Gaylon Gray noted.
“The right thing to be done, would be for the landowner to build a retaining wall and put dirt back in there, but the county doesn’t want to incur that kind of expense,” Stark continued.
“Not on private property,” Washington agreed about the legalities of using county equipment and resources on private property.
“But it is going to be a problem if something is not done,” Stark reiterated.
“That is the landowner’s responsibility,” Gray stressed.
“So if a casket washes out and is exposed, we just leave it? We don’t get involved?” Washington asked.
“We can’t go on their private land and build a retaining wall. How can we force the landowner to do that? They are all going to wash up in a few more years,” Gray said.
Stark added that his research indicated that the property was developed by a previous owner,  Larry Joe Lindley, but had since been purchased by Jordan Thomas Shafer. He also said the paperwork accompanying the land deed indicates there is a possible cemetery on the property.
“The landowner, in my mind, would have all responsibility for it,” Washington reiterated.
Following the legal discussion, the conversation shifted back to how to handle the casket as Washington recommended locating another cemetery to bury the remains of an unknown deceased individual.
“If we can get a cemetery that will allow that, we are talking about human remains that deserve to rest in peace, I am sensitive to that,” Washington said.
District 4 Supervisor Eddie Harris agreed to reach out to churches in his beat. On Friday the coffin was reburied at Guest Cemetery at Philadelphia M.B. Church on County Road 211 near Oakland.

Final Comments
Following the input, Crow said the next step would be to send the landowner written notice that the county could seek an injunction prohibiting future development on the property that would undermine the grave sites in the cemetery. The notice would also alert the landowner that if there are any additional problems with the graves, the landowner would incur the expense.
“If we have to do anything, we are going to come after him,” Washington said about the county’s role going forward.
“Because a casket coming out of the ground, that is a public health problem,” Gray agreed.

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