By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Erin Kelly has walked through the City Cemetery on Hilldale Avenue dozens of times.
But on one recent walk, something unusual and disturbing caught her eye. One of the graves appeared to be rising out of the earth, with a mound forming on the surface. She said the scene horrified her.
So the Hilldale Avenue resident contacted City Councilor Robert Scatamacchia, who has been in the funeral business for 40 years.
They met on Tuesday at the City Cemetery, a place set aside for the burials of poor people.
Kelly pointed out one grave in particular and told Scatamacchia it appeared that a coffin was rising up from the earth since the mound was about the right length and width.
Scatamacchia’s eyes opened wide. He didn’t know what to make of it and said he’d never seen anything like it.
“I can certainly understand her concern,” Scatamacchia said. “If you look at it from a distance, it does look like something is coming up. Then when you get closer, you realize that’s not the case.”
They were unable to locate a grave marker indicating who may be buried there.
Scatamacchia said several neighboring graves appeared to have mounds of earth on them as well, only not quite as high as the one that caught Kelly’s eye.
The City Cemetery is adjacent to the private Hilldale Cemetery, but the two are separate burial grounds.
Scatamacchia told Kelly he doubted anything could be rising up from the grave, and that his first impression was that the mound may have been caused by earth sinking at either side. He said he just didn’t know for sure, so he called in the city’s deputy tree warden, Neil Kelleher.
Kelleher visited the cemetery on Wednesday along with Scatamacchia and Kelly, and after a quick inspection he told them the mound was likely backfill that was left on top of the grave by the contractor who was hired to dig graves there. He said it has been years since anyone was buried there.
“I’m sure Neil is right,” Scatamacchia said. “If you look at almost all of the most recent graves, they all seem to have a mound.”
Scatamacchia said that in almost all of the cemeteries he deals with in the funeral business, there are areas where workers can set aside excess backfill. He said they typically use that soil for maintaining their cemetery, but that it doesn’t seem to be the practice at the City Cemetery.
Since he was unable to find a grave marker or headstone at either end of the mound that Kelly had pointed out, Scatamacchia wonders if this particular mound was left as a warning not to mistake the plot for one that is empty.
Kelly said she isn’t convinced of Kelleher’s explanation and wants the city to find out what happened.
She said she is also bothered by the fact that a grave marker could not be located.
“I think everyone should have some type of marker,” Kelly said. “This isn’t someone’s garden. These are residents. Someone’s mother, someone’s father ... a veteran maybe. Just because they may be indigent, it’s not a reason not to treat them with respect.
“I’d like someone to show me, with my eyes, that the casket is not rising up and that everything will be leveled out and cleaned up,” Kelly said.
David Van Dam, Mayor James Fiorentini’s chief of staff, said the city will be looking into the situation at the City Cemetery and if a problem is found it will be corrected.