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Funeral home volunteers to rebury remains

May 12, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

A Hagerstown funeral home has volunteered to take care of moving to another cemetery remains of the 40 to 50 bodies buried inside a Washington County landfill property.

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Gerald N. Minnich, funeral director of the Gerald N. Minnich Funeral Home on North Potomac Street, said he also is offering to work with the Maryland Health Department to get disinterment permits needed to move the bodies from the small private cemetery.

"We will do whatever work it takes to get the cemetery moved," Minnich said.

Minnich said he would help a county consultant gather information about the funeral practices at the time the cemetery was used, he said. From 40 to 50 bodies were buried in the small private cemetery between 1825 and 1856, according to a 1996 report commissioned by the county.

Last week, Bill Divelbliss, manager of the 135-year-old Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown, offered to rebury the bodies in a prominent portion of that cemetery, free of charge.

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"I thought it was very nice of him to do that," Minnich said.

County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer agreed.

"These are very generous offers, and it is gratifying to see community experts come forward to offer assistance. I will certainly recommend to the (County Commissioners) that we accept them," Rohrer said.

"When you consider the era in which Rose Hill was started, I can't think of a better location for this family plot," he said.

The offers of service can help the county deal with the complex issues involved, Rohrer said.

Since the cemetery is in a depression in the property, working around the cemetery would reduce the landfill's lifespan from 80 years to about 50 to 55 years, Rohrer said. The cemetery is in "deplorable" condition and needs to be restored in some way, he added.

The County Commissioners signed an agreement last month with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detailing how the county should go about moving the bodies. The Corps of Engineers required the agreement before giving the county the permits necessary to proceed with development of the landfill.

Under the agreement, the County Commissioners must approve an "archaeological data recovery plan" by June 2003, even though the bodies might not be moved for five to 10 years, when the landfill cell will be constructed there.

As part of that plan, the county must provide information on the funereal practices of the time. Minnich said he can help the county find that information. Rohrer said the assistance would be appreciated.

Minnich and Divelbliss said their offers will remain good no matter when the bodies are moved.

The Lund landfill is expected to open in about 20 months, about the same time the Resh Sanitary Landfill is expected to run out of room. Rohrer has estimated it will cost Washington County about $12 million to close Resh and another $12 million to get Lund ready for operation.

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