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Strange Cemetery Stories: The Monsoon

Updated on October 27, 2012
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WARNING: This story is not my usual collection of humorous anecdotes. It is a short story based on my experience as an office manager at a large cemetery. It contains subject matter that might be disturbing to sensitive individuals, specifically details on the logistics of burial.

This is an account of the roughest night our crew experienced in the six years I was employed at this cemetery. The worst day of work the superintendent had in over a decade. A day I will never forget. All because of a little rain.

Six burial services were scheduled. With a staff of only seven, including the superintendent and his assistant. This was bound to be a busy day. Then there was the issue of ratio of equipment to burial services. Six services but only one backhoe, one set up truck, two dump trucks, and just two graveside set ups. A clear shortage of materials.

It was nothing we hadn’t come across before. It generally meant they set up the first two gravesides, take up the first burial party, make sure they have what they need and wait for the second. As soon as the first is finished, the guys break it down and bring that set up to the third graveside. In the meantime, the second burial has been led up. When that is done it is broken down and the materials go to the fourth graveside. It goes on that way, a sort of leap frogging, until everyone has come and gone.

It's enough to make your head spin. But not our guys. They worked like a well-oiled machine. Nine in one day I think was the record. Six of them arriving nearly at the same time and in the middle of a heat wave to boot. That was quite a day.

So six in one day wasn’t so bad. No heat wave this time. The forecast called for rain. That could always make things unpleasant, but it happens.

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Fortunately, the burial parties lucked out. The rain held off for them. The first drops didn’t fall until the last service hit the exit gates early that afternoon.

Our crew did not fare as well.

It began as a light rain. No big deal. But light or hard, working outside in the rain is a lousy deal. With six graves to fill and only enough resources to do them one, maybe two at a time, it meant for a long afternoon. Again, nothing the guys hadn’t done before. They could knock that out no problem. Except for that rain.

The clouds kept rolling in, darker and darker. Bringing more rain. Sheets of rain. Relentless rain. The kind of rain that made it feel like you were standing in a shower.

From the safety of the office I watched the monsoon grow. The water running down the cemetery roads was like a river. I swear you could have ridden a canoe from the highest hill to the lowest point without running aground. On second thought, with the looks of the gushing stream, you better make that a whitewater raft.

Regardless of the weather, there were six graves to fill. The crew went one by one. Dump trucks of dirt. Dumping, filling, tamping. They had done it thousands of times before in rain, snow, baking heat, blasting wind, any condition you can imagine. Still, no one was expecting things to go down like they did.

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As the graves sat waiting to be filled, water was running into them at an incredible rate. Too fast for it to soak into the ground, leaving these large, open holes to rapidly fill with water. Truckloads of dry dirt turned into pits of mud. Blinding rain made conditions difficult, nearly impossible, to work in.

From the office we could see the lights of the set up truck. The crew was using the headlights to see by. The large number of burial services meant working past the usual time of 4 pm. It was late fall and beginning to get dark already.

The radio beeped. It was the Super. I answered, “Are you guys OK out there? What do you need?” He made his request, “Does anyone down there have a ShamWow? It’s kinda wet out here!” He was in a great mood. It was one of those times you just had to laugh or fall apart. I advised him that we were fresh out of shammies and told him to stay safe and call if they needed anything.

The next call from the grounds wasn’t a joke. Nor was it a request. It was simply to inform the director that there was a situation. One of the dearly departed was trying to escape from her grave. The superintendent informed the director that he would remedy the situation, but the guys would rack up a good amount of overtime.

Our director was a very hands-on type. He decided to brave the rain and go out to the graveside. He could not believe what he saw. The high-end casket the family purchased was sealed airtight to keep water out. As water filled the burial vault (essentially a dressed up concrete box that protects the casket), the casket floated inside it until it reached the top, pushed the lid off the vault, and nearly floated away. The only thing keeping the casket from floating out of the grave and sliding downhill was that it was caught on part of the heavy vault lid, barely.

The crew was pumping water out of the grave as fast as they could. They got the level down low enough to get the casket back in the vault and the lid on. Now to fill the grave before the casket could come bobbing back up! A truckload of dirt turned into muddy water. Another load went in with hopes that something resembling dirt would end up weighing down the vault lid, keeping it closed.

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The grave was filled and it seemed that the casket would stay put. Then the superintendent got a call from one of his crew at another grave. This time the entire vault was beginning to float! They headed to the next one. Here they go again. Pump out the water, fill as fast as possible, hope everything stays down. Then a call from the crew at the previous grave. The casket escaped again!

Back to the previous grave. Pump out water, fill with dirt, hope like hell it works.

A third grave became unsettled. Now up to this one. Pump out water, fill with dirt, hope like hell it works.

Then the first casket pops up yet again. This lady just did not want to be buried that day! Pump out water, fill with dirt, hope like hell it works. Then went the second. They just did not want to stay put.

That is how the evening continued. The guys worked in the driving rain as it poured down their bodies, obstructed their view, and turned heavy loads of dirt to useless watery mud. After checking on the superintendent one more time, I closed up the office, feeling helpless. As I pulled out I could see the lights of the setup truck in the distance. I wondered how long they were going to be out there.

They could have given up. State law puts no time requirement on filling a grave. It must be done in a “reasonable amount of time.” There would have been no objection to storing the caskets in the mausoleum until the next day when they could be buried more easily. But that was not our style. The Super did not like to say no. If this was the day the family chose for burial, than this was the day that it would take place.

As I got ready for work the next day, I thought about the night before. I wondered how late the guys stayed and if those stubborn folks stayed in their graves. I thought about it as I drove to work. I was still thinking about it as I opened up the office for the day.

The superintendent was uncharacteristically late for work. As he walked into the office he looked noticeably haggard. He plopped down at his desk. I asked him, “Are you ok?” His answer was no! He got home late. They had worked until nearly 7 pm. He hardly slept, tormented by the hellish night of work. He was so distracted by worry that he missed his exit on the way to work, resulting in his excessive tardiness.

I asked if he had been out to see the graves. His reply was “No way. The hell if I am going out there. I don’t want see it. If there is something wrong, they will tell me.” He was right. No sense in running out to check. He knew the crew and his assistant had already done it.

Everything was fine. Caskets and vaults stayed put overnight, after being buried three times. The crew was in the process of repairing ruts in the soft ground and topping off where dirt had washed away.

The Super looked beat and not ready to go back out there just yet. I had never seen him like that. This was the guy who had nearly seen and done it all, including exposed corpses and burials in two feet of snow.

This guy and his crew dug every hole, supervised every service, and filled in every grave. Dozens of services a month. Hundreds per year. Yet that night was the worst he had seen . That night nearly beat him.

He did go back out there of course. There were burial services coming in that day.



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    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Sherry Hewins - it is one of the craziest things that happened there. and yes. good thing the families were not there. we would get a lot of requests from families saying they want to see the grave filled. i always stronlgy recommended they did not. it isnt like you think. it looks like a small construction site. that is not how you want to remember the funeral.... thanks for stopping by to read and comment. if you are interested, the others in the series are much more light hearted,... see you around HP

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      OMG, that's quite a story. Just as well for the families that they didn't have to know about it. If it were your loved one it's an image best not implanted in the mind.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Gypsy Rose Lee - Thnaks for the vote up!!! working at a cemetery was not like anything I imagined it would be. It really was the best and worst job I ever had.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Voted up. Thanks for this very interesting hub. It wasn't bad just fascinating never knew it could be such a difficult job working in a cemetery of course depending on what it is you do.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Nell - Yup. That was real life. And funny except for those poor grounds guys!... that isn't even the craziest thing that has happened. Wait til you see what I have coming!!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Sounds like one of those horror films! haha! what was it, poltergeist? funny stuff Dana, voted up! nell

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Minnetonka Twin - I have worked outside in rain like that and ii it indeed miserable. I can't imagine adding the dark to the mix! What an experience to have worked with those guys!... Thanks for stopping by. :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      ImKarn23 - Leslie, yes, in hindsight we did all have a good laugh about it. The office staff was sort of laughing as it was happeneing. But not the poor guys out there in the dark rain trying to get that lady to stay in her grave!! ...It was a great job. Totally crazy!...Thanks for giving this a read.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 4 years ago from Minnesota

      Yikes-what a true life Halloween story. Sounds like a dedicated and hard working crew you worked with. It must have been miserable out there. Thanks for sharing a cemetery story, especially at this time of year.

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      omg...humor can be a very 'slippery slope', eh, Dana? I'm sorry - but - come on - in hindsight you must admit - it's pretty hilarious!

      It's hard to keep a good man - or woman - DOWN(or IN)! lol..

      kinda spooky for sure on a dark rainy night - but - hey! You chose the job, girlfriend!

      Sounds like a great bunch of people to work with too..

      this needs to be shared! It's perfect timing!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Jools99 - Hi Julie! Don't worry, you aren't the only one laughing. I even find it funny loking back on it. THat darn lady just did non want to stay in the ground! I have been in rain like that and it is no fun to work in. They really did a great job..... Thanks for commenting... see you around hubland :)

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      I feel like I shouldn't be laughing but I have a black sense of humour Dana, I can't help it! I will say one thing - those guys work so hard! It is difficult to imagine having to deal with a deluge like this and of the implications to a burial site but they did a great job.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Sueswan - You got hat right, It is back breaking work on a usual day, add escapees and pouring rain and it is quite the mess! They did a gret job and I will never forget it. All of these comments have me realizing that the families obviously know nothing about what happened, They were all gone, I wonder what they would hve to say. Maybe I will add something about that.... Thanks for the votes. You're the best. Hugs. See u around.

    • profile image

      Sueswan 4 years ago

      Hi Dana,

      Now that is dedication. To get the job done and not let a monsoon and runway coffins get in the way.

      Voted up and awesome

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Stephanie Henkel - You are not the only one that thinks it was a funny situation. It started out funnt. The rain was absolutely ridiculous. Then when it got dark and thise darn dead folks didn't want to stay in the ground, I think the guys just pushed on full force til the end. Once they recovered and we looked back at it we did find it funny.

      When I accepted the job I really thought it was gonna be a nice quiet cemetery job. NOPE! ... thanks for reading. There will be more to come

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      emraldwolf - thank you so much for the sweet compliment. Welcome to hubpages. I will check out your work.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA

      Oh, my gosh! It sounds like those dearly departed still had a will of their own! Somehow, one never thinks that working in a cemetery would have its funny moments, but this must have been really funny -unless you were the ones out there in the torrential rains trying to get these caskets to stay in the ground! Thanks for sharing your fascinating stories!

    • emraldwolf profile image

      emraldwolf 4 years ago

      I love it. You have a beautiful way of writing. i would love if you came and read some of my stories.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      SkeetyD - Mother Nature can certainly be a beast. I have worked outside in driving rain like that (hurricane Alex off the coast of Virginia) and it is quite the experience. I am still in touch with the super, perhaps I will pass on your compliments. Thanks!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Sunshine625 - Hi Linda! Where were you that day?! Those guys really coulda used a bit of sunshine. I dont exaggerate when I say it was like standing in a shower. Being in Orlando I know you can relate to rainlike that. It's insane!... Thanks for stopping by.... see you around! :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      sgbrown - Those guys really were dedcated. They honestly buried in 2 feet of snow, oppressive heat, and this "monsoon". It was an amazing thing to see. And we all had a good laugh about it in the end.... Thank u for taking the time to comment and vote! Much apprecitated.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Janine - It certainly started out funny, like the shammy request. That rain was ridiculous! Then it really wasn't funny, for the guys anyway. And then it was funny again. After the super recovered form the shock and exhaustion, we all had a good laugh about it. That one darn lady just did not want to stay put! Can you imaging if she had slid dow the hill?!.... Thanks so much for sharing. you are a doll. :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Mike - Thanks for visiting. I always said to my coworkers that our cemetery would make for a great sitcom! I certainly have enough stories for a book, or two. Maybe someday. Thank you for the encouragement, and for the votes!!!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      My Minds Eye53 - WOW. So sorry to her about your ancestors. It is amazing the kinds of things that happen. Mother nature is a powerful force.... The real things I have seen and done are much better than anything I could ever make up! ... THanks a ton for the vote up!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Becky Katz - So much for the bad joke about people "dying to get in there", that night they were doing there best to get out! We really did have a great bunck of guys, especially the super. After he recovered from the shock, we all had a good laugh about it... That stuff in the news, it happens more than you think! But not with my crew.... Thanks for stopping to read and comment. :)

    • DanaTeresa profile image
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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      rcrumple - Howdy! Thanks for popping by. Yes. It was quite a night. I would have LOVED to see that lady float by. Clearly it is what she wanted. THREE escape attempts! ... THnaks for the vote. See u around.

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Denise - It sure started out funny, especially when the super asked for the shammy. We were hysterical. Can you imagine how wet it must have been?! And then looking back it is humorous. Like that one stubborn lady that kept popping up, where did she think she was going?!

    • DanaTeresa profile image
      Author

      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      Hello Daisy! Glad you found this fascinating. This sort of writing is very new to me. I was afraid it might be boring.... THat group pf guys, the super in particular, were great. They didn't want the families to have the thought of their grandma or whoever sitting in the mauso and being buried later.

    • SkeetyD profile image

      SkeetyD 4 years ago from Barbados

      That was some story. Wow, the rain is certainly a tempestuous work mate. But kudos to the crew and the super for sticking with it. Perseverance is rare these days and I put on a hat just to tip it to them.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

      That's what I call determination and dedication!! Not even a monsoon kept these guys away from getting 'er done!!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Great story. These men should be commended for going above and beyond to do what was respectful for the deceased and their families. This was more than most people would have done. Voting this up and interesting! :)

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      I am sure this was not funny, but had to also hit the funny button. As for the deceased it did truly sound like one or all of them had conspired, because they just didn't want to be buried, which could also be a bit creepy if you give play to that! Anyway, very interesting sorry and have shared also!!

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      that was a great tale,, I love paranormal stories and I'm sure you could write an excellent fiction book dedicated to the Cemetery

      awesome, funny and shared :)

    • My Minds Eye53 profile image

      My Minds Eye53 4 years ago from Tennessee

      A similar thing happened to a very old cemetery in a small town in Missouri. A bad storm washed away a good part of the cemetery that sat up on a hill. Many of my ancestors that resided there washed down the hill and on into the Missouri River. Needless to say, they were never recovered.

      Very interesting story! Truth is better than fiction quite often. Voted up.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      Terrible when they keep trying to escape before they are even buried. What kind of place are they running there.

      Just kidding, it is so good to see that people take this seriously. Especially in light of some of the things that have been reported on the news. Luckily that does not happen too often.

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 4 years ago from Kentucky

      Dana - What a night! It's a wonder you didn't look out the window and seeing one float by! Great tale! voted

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow! I know it probably wasn't funny at the time (or perhaps at all) but I had to hit the funny button. I can only imagine the comedy of errors that was occurring during this rainstorm...omg. Thanks for sharing. Rated up.

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Dana,

      What a fascinating account of your days working at the cemetery!

      You worked with a dedicated bunch of people. They could have waited until the next morning, as you mentioned in your article, to complete the burials, but they kept on working through all that rain to finish the jobs.