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Crazy Cemetery Stories: Nuts and Bones
These anecdotes are based on my six years working in the office of a large cemetery. They deal with subject matter that some might find disturbing and actions that some might find distasteful. If you are one of these folks, I suggest you stop reading now. Otherwise, enjoy!
As always, dear reader, I want to you to keep in mind as you read that nothing was ever done out of disrespect. The individuals involved were the most dedicated bunch of guys and gals that I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Considering we had the jobs of scheduling, preparing, and witnessing hundreds of burials a year, can you blame us for blowing off a little steam now and then?
If you have been reading my Crazy Cemetery series you are plenty aware that there were some crazy and downright hilarious occurrences at the cemetery where I worked.
Well, it wasn’t just the decedents, or the neighbors, or the weather, that was nutty. Some of the staff members were a little left of center as well, self-included.
This is a sampling of some of the little pranks that you can only do at a cemetery!
When I was just the secretary, there was a woman working at the cemetery in an bookkeeping/office manager role. She was my supervisor. Thinking about that now, maybe I shouldn't have done what I am about to tell you. No. I should have. She practically asked for it. She was a jokester herself.
This woman also was terrified of dead bodies and anything related to them. Yes. I thought the same thing. What on earth was she doing working at a cemetery?!
She wouldn't go in the mausoleums. Just the thought of it made her shudder. She was absolutely positively creeped out by urns and ashes. She would cringe at the site of me holding an urn, sealed tight, anywhere near the door to her office. So forget about her touching an urn, or even anything that touched one.
Well, when loved ones arrived in an urn that was fragile, the box usually included some sort of packing material – bubble wrap, newspaper, foam peanuts etc. You might think that popping yards of bubble wrap is fun, but the most fun I had was with those darn peanuts.
What could possibly bring more joy than popping sheet upon sheet of bubble wrap? Why, that would be torturing this woman, my supervisor, with packing peanuts. I will explain.
One day I unpacked an urn and put it aside to wait until the family came in for the burial service. We often had one or two “friends” like that hanging around. The box was in my supervisor’s way, so she asked me to move it. She wouldn't touch it! Now, there was absolutely no way any tiny minute bit of ash was anywhere on this box or the packing material. Even so, my supervisor would not touch it. Not the box. Not the Styrofoam peanuts inside. And that is all I needed.
We were sort of a loony crew at that time. A dysfunctional family, if you will. Jokes and insults flew just as fast and hard as orders. So it was not completely off limits to have a little fun with this lady. And I did.
I took one of those peanuts and I put it on her filing cabinet. The one across from her desk. The one she looked at when she sat in her chair. And I left it there knowing that she would see it. Knowing that she would not be able to touch it no matter how much she was freaking out about it being there.
What did she do? Oh she screeched. And she yelled. And she yelled some more. I did eventually go in there and pick it up. Then, as she directed, I wiped down her cabinet.
Was she mad? At first I am sure she was. Did I get in trouble? Of course not. So I proceeded to taunt her by showing her packing peanuts every time they came in. Yes. I am relentless.
And then I really did it! I told the superintendent about my supervisor’s hang-up with the peanuts. Game on! This guy always seemed to take what I was thinking and go right off the edge with it. Sometimes with my encouragement.
The next time an urn came in accompanied by peanuts; I causally mentioned it to the super. Before those peanuts made it to the trash, several handfuls made their way into his desk drawer. For later use, I assumed. I assumed correctly.
The next morning, as soon as my supervisor entered her office I heard “Dana!” I went in her office knowing that, whatever it was, I didn’t do it. What was it that I didn’t do? Oh it was brilliant. Lined up along her keyboard, top and bottom, were foam peanuts. And there was one single one in her chair. Just for good measure, I suppose. She was not happy. Very nearly freaking out.
I immediately ratted out the super. I was not about to take the fall for that one! No way! This went way beyond a single peanut on the cabinet!
The super came up to her office, got a good tongue lashing, and the offending packing materials were removed. The office was then thoroughly sanitized. All of this by the super of course. And he did it with a smile knowing full well there were plenty more where those came from.
The best part of my desk’s location was that it was in front of a large picture window. I could see a beautiful view of the grounds and everyone entering and exiting the building. I sat at my desk one afternoon writing little old ladies, the term I fondly used for replying to customer correspondence, when I saw the superintendent walk up the entrance ramp. I ignored him, thinking he was going to his desk. He wasn’t.
I didn’t have to turn around to know he was standing behind me. I have sort of a sixth sense for that kind of thing. It was nearly impossible for him to sneak up on me. I just kept writing. There was nothing I needed to give him or tell him, and if he wanted something he would ask.
The next thing I saw was his closed hand move around until it was just in front of my chest. OK. So that was unexpected. He opened his hand slowly and resting in the center of his palm is what I ultimately referred to as “the nugget.” I had to come up with a code name to prevent anyone from hearing me refer to the item by what it actually was.
The super was holding in front of me a single vertebra, a backbone, from a large mammal. I knew this from my days studying wildlife biology. It was partly blackened and in early stages of decay, but still intact. I turned around, looked up at him, and asked, “Is that what I think it is?” He smiled and answered, “Yup!”
Yup. It was a human bone. I made him tell me ten times over that he was not joking. That is wasn’t from a deer. And then I made him tell me where he got it.
It came from the grave next to the one he was digging. That day had been preceded by several days with a good amount of rain. Most of the water had run through the ground and it was not particularly soggy. There was nothing unusual as the guys dug. No red flags.
A Few More In My Crazy Cemetery Series...
- Crazy Cemetery Stories: Oh, Mother!
A few stories devoted to dear old mom!
- Crazy Cemetery Stories: Spouses, Spouses, Everywhere...
If ou think marriage is complicated in life, wait until you see what happends after death!
- Crazy Cemetery Stories: Odds, Ends, Pets, and Parts
Not everything buried is a corpse!
- Crazy Cemetery Stories: Ashes to Ashes
You just gotta read this one!
The unmarked grave next to this new one was very old. Apparently the casket was placed directly in the ground with no concrete burial vault (perfectly allowable back then). It also was placed slightly too close to this new grave, not unusual.
What was unexpected was that this old casket also was full of water from the recent rain. When the new grave was dug, there suddenly was no longer enough dirt to hold back the force of the water inside the casket. Part of the casket broke open and water poured into the new grave, along with some of the gentleman’s bones. According to the super, his back bones bobbed up just like apples!
What do you do when the neighbor’s bones spill into your new grave? You pick them up. And I guess step two at my cemetery is to show the quirky office manager, just like a little kid shows his mom the frog he caught. Step three is to freak out another female office staff member by offering it to her with the advice to “grow a spine.” She was not happy. I am still laughing!
Before you think we were conducting ourselves like disrespectful morons (too late?), the real reason the super was walking around with a pocket full of bones was not for office games. That is just what he did to pass time until that day’s funeral came and went. He was holding them in safe keeping. To be honest, his pocket was probably the safest place on the grounds.
After the burial service left and the family was gone, the super placed the old bones back in the grave they had escaped from. I can assure you that all the gentleman’s bones are exactly where they should be, though now a little out of sorts. Unless, of course, you can actually grow a spine. Maybe I should go back there and see if anything sprouted!
If you think it's odd to have a few bones hanging around the office, what do you suppose you do with a spare casket? That certainly is not fitting in the superintendent’s pocket.
For reasons I will explain in another story, a casket was damaged during a burial. The deceased was removed, placed in a new casket, and buried. (Yes. The family was aware and approved.) For a short time, we had the casket in our garage until it could be disposed of. Before disposing of the casket, we were to take photos for insurance purposes.
The task of taking the photos was put on one of the memorial advisors. She was a little on the skittish side, but was a good sport about taking the camera down to the garage. Maybe to show us all that she really did have a spine!
I called down to the super and let him know she was on her way. She went to the garage, turned on the camera, and just as she stepped up to take the first photo – Boo! One of the grounds guys popped out of the casket! He nearly scared the poor woman to death.
It turns out, as soon as they found out who was headed down to the garage, they orchestrated the prank. One of the guys jumped in the casket and just as she walked up, the super tapped on the casket to signal him to pop out.
From what they tell me, she jumped so high and so far that it looked like she was trying to climb the wall. I am still counting my lucky stars that it wasn’t me!
And that folks, is a sampling of what you do at a cemetery to kill the time. Mostly on days when it is dead quiet, which doesn’t happen often. People are dying to get in you know!