By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
Three siblings went to the Richmond Cemetery on Wednesday morning to visit the burial site of their mother, Mammie Helen Smith, who was laid to rest next to their father, John Morgan Smith, in March 2012.
While planting some bushes on their mother’s grave, they made an unexpected discovery.
Smith’s children Pam Strong, Sue Arvin and Robert Smith “hit something hard” with the shovel they were using to dig holes, Strong said Wednesday morning after the cemetery visit.
After some further digging, the siblings discovered that they were hitting the concrete vault surrounding their mother’s coffin, about 9 inches from the surface of the ground. According to state regulations, coffins enclosed in a vault made with impervious material and hermetically sealed must be buried in a depth that allows for at least 24 inches of soil from the top of the burial container to the natural surface of the ground.
“There’s no telling how many people are over there and not buried right,” Strong said, tears welling up in her eyes. “It’s a shame.”
Richmond Cemetery Director of Grounds Mike Rice visited the gravesite with the family Wednesday and confirmed that the vault was not deep enough, he said.
Rice checked the depth of John Smith’s grave and discovered that his remains were where they should be, Strong said.
Rice said he will do “whatever we need to do to take care of things” and gave the family two options.
The grave is in a low-lying area and more soil can be added to the plot, or the burial container can be exhumed and reburied at the correct depth at no charge to the family, he said.
“We don’t want her dug up, but we want to do what’s right for Mom,” Strong said. “I hate that we have to go through all this again, but we owe it to Mom.”
She said at the end of her mother’s burial service last year, she stayed behind to put a rose on her coffin before the vault was closed. She remembers thinking at that time that the grave did not look deep enough, Strong said.
The Smith’s 11 children will meet this Sunday to discuss the matter, she said.
According to Rice, graves are usually dug to around 52 inches, leaving the required 2 feet of soil on top. But the height of each vault can vary, he said, and each vault is generally measured to determine how deep to dig.
“You can’t just eyeball it (the depth),” he said.
Rice is not sure why Smith’s grave was not dug deep enough, he said, but will “do some checking” into why the grave did not meet regulations.
The Richmond Cemetery has its own employees who dig graves and does not contract others to do the job, he said.
“The family is already going through enough losing a family member. I know it’s hard on them,” said Rice, whose own parents are buried at the Richmond Cemetery.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.