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Skeletal remains found in upended tree
October 31, 2012 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Not-Hurricane Sandy turned over a hundred-year-old tree — that had grown through a body buried a hundred years before THAT. " A homeless woman made a spooky Halloween’s eve discovery on the Upper Green: bones from a centuries-old human body unearthed by a giant oak tree toppled by Superstorm Sandy."
posted by axoplasm (64 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Creepy and awesome, but funny they have to treat what is likely a 1700s era cemetery find as a "crime scene".
posted by mathowie at 11:15 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


At what point does a dead body being unearthed go from "horrible" to "awesome?" Because this is kind of awesome in a horrible way.
posted by bondcliff at 11:18 AM on October 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


It should be given a proper burial,” Carbo said.

They should re-bury in situ and plant another tree over it.
posted by porpoise at 11:20 AM on October 31, 2012 [18 favorites]


Between 10 and 50 years, I'd guess.
posted by Artw at 11:20 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kind of a funny presentation for the article. The abundant pictures and short paragraphs make me feel like I'm reading a children's book.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:21 AM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


They should re-bury in situ and plant another tree over it.

Expect shitty harvests until you do.
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on October 31, 2012 [25 favorites]


I love that they're using grocery bags to transport the remains.
posted by SixteenTons at 11:22 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's like the cold open to an episode of Bones.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:24 AM on October 31, 2012 [22 favorites]


YA ONLY MOVED THE HEADSTONES
posted by AugieAugustus at 11:26 AM on October 31, 2012 [21 favorites]


Awesome is horrible plus time.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:26 AM on October 31, 2012 [30 favorites]


Creepy and awesome, but funny they have to treat what is likely a 1700s era cemetery find as a "crime scene".

That's because the cemetery would be the BEST place to dump a murder victim. The old "hide it in plain sight" often succeeds in cases without forensic investigation.
posted by Renoroc at 11:27 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


who just pokes at skulls until they fall apart before the authorities get there?
posted by nadawi at 11:27 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love that in 1821 they moved the gravestones but left the bodies as is. Would really like to know the reasoning behind that decision.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:28 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love that in 1821 they moved the gravestones but left the bodies as is. Would really like to know the reasoning behind that decision.

Easy money.
posted by Atreides at 11:29 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cops planned to guard the bones tonight on the graveyard shift.

How much giggling was involved in putting this line in the article?
posted by piedmont at 11:31 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure they were *puts on glasses* dead serious.

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH
posted by zombieflanders at 11:34 AM on October 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


How much giggling was involved in putting this line in the article?

All of it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:34 AM on October 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


Pequenino third life performance art.
posted by LordSludge at 11:35 AM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


And the dead body was growing out of another tree that was another hundred years older yet!
posted by Mister_A at 11:37 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


who just pokes at skulls until they fall apart before the authorities get there?

Every 12 year old boy in the entire world?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:37 AM on October 31, 2012 [18 favorites]


ew
posted by stormpooper at 11:38 AM on October 31, 2012


There are human bones buried all the hell over the place. Sure, get an archeologist from the local college but is this whole production really necessary?
posted by Ad hominem at 11:39 AM on October 31, 2012


Pequenino third life performance art.


I really did not need to be reminded of that book.
posted by ocschwar at 11:40 AM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's funny is how much the photos of the examination look like they were taken from the first 5-10 minutes of any episode of Bones.

On preview, I realize that jacquilynne said the same thing. But it REALLY does look like that show looks.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:41 AM on October 31, 2012


Every 12 year old boy in the entire world?

And every 12 year old girl in the entire world! Or, personally speaking as 32 year old woman, I probably wouldn't have the self restraint to not immediately start poking around.
posted by raztaj at 11:41 AM on October 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


a centuries-old human body

HAROLD BLOOM?!
posted by chinston at 11:42 AM on October 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


Love that the guy who found it first is named Silas, because that's a name no one has had in earnest for 200 years. MAYBE BONES ARE PAST GHOST OF HIMSELF COME BACK TO STEAL BODY OF PRESENT INCARNATION??
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 11:43 AM on October 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


Weirwood?
posted by IndpMed at 11:45 AM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love that in 1821 they moved the gravestones but left the bodies as is. Would really like to know the reasoning behind that decision.

I feel like this is somewhat common, particularly in New England.

Our City Common has a small cemetery in it, but I've been told by a number of folks that there are bodies buried elsewhere in the area as well...I know there's a lot more names here than there are headstones in that little cemetery, although I think some were moved to another city cemetery.
posted by rollbiz at 11:45 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm 50 and I totally would have pried that skull out of there. I may have taken it, but eventually my conscious would win out and I'd have returned it. To where, I don't know. But I've always wanted to own a skull. And honestly? 100 years from now I wouldn't care if someone found my skull and had some shenanigans with it.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:48 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would really like to know the reasoning behind that decision.

There's a lot on the subject in Henry Taylor Blake's 1898 "Chronicles of New Haven green from 1638 to 1862" - on Google Books here.

On the subject of the buried bodies on the Green, he even relates a couple of ghost stories: "In view of the crowed condition of the graveyard on the Green and the promiscuous way in which its tenants were thrown together, it would not have been surprising if an occasional restless ghost had broken out of its uncomfortable quarters to disturb the serenity of belated travelers...." - read on!
posted by bubukaba at 11:49 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was young, my friend's sister had found a skull that had eroded near the shoreline of the Bras D'or lake in Nova Scotia. Her and her cousin set up a scavenger hunt for my friend, my brother and i, ending with us going down the beach to a lit candle in front of the skull after dark. A super high creep out factor. The skull was from an old settlers graveyard with many recognizable tombstones, probably over 150 years old.
posted by phirleh at 11:52 AM on October 31, 2012


I love that in 1821 they moved the gravestones but left the bodies as is.

Oh, don't worry about it. After all, it's not ancient tribal burial ground. It's just people. Besides, we've done it before.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:52 AM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


ok, kids, yeah - but adults in the middle of the city? i feel like adults shouldn't have to be told to not touch human remains that got uprooted in a hurricane.
posted by nadawi at 11:58 AM on October 31, 2012


I feel like this is somewhat common, particularly in New England.

Boston's first subway tunnel disturbed a bunch of colonial graves-- they were very near Central Burying Ground in the Common, but not within the known boundaries of it. It's probably a combination of "the early settlers weren't always particular about marking graves," and "subsequent generations didn't care that much about old graves."
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:58 AM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Inside the box they found...a live frog.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRnX4quv5W4
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:01 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Inside the frog: another box.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:04 PM on October 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


As long as it doesn't turn out to be a Clive Barker story, that's all.
posted by Grangousier at 12:05 PM on October 31, 2012


I ran across a comment somewhere (Reddit, maybe?) saying that they've seen these trees suddenly flip back into their holes, so now pictures like this freak me out. QUIT TEMPTING THE EARTH TO SWALLOW YOU WHOLE!
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:11 PM on October 31, 2012


A friend of mine was having a patio put in his backyard and the local handyman dug up What they thought was a skull. It was clear the skull had been there for a long long time. For better or worse they decided no good could come from involving the police and to just get rid of it. The handyman took it and when he came back he told them he took it to the projects and threw it in a dumpster. I probably would have called the police, but that is how we do stuff in New York.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:12 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's probably a combination of they were very near Central Burying Ground in the Common, but not within the known boundaries of it.

This happens a few times a decade in the blocks around Georgetown, D.C.'s Volta Park, which was the Presbyterian Burial Ground from 1802 to 1907. The most recent remains turned up last month, outside the commonly accepted boundaries of the cemetery.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:14 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Today I realized that not everybody assumes their house/dorm/apartment building was built on a former cemetery, just in case.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:17 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are human bones buried all the hell over the place. Sure, get an archeologist from the local college but is this whole production really necessary?

I've only dug in New Mexico, but I imagine other states are similar. The first thing you have to do when you encounter human remains is call the coroner to verify that they aren't the result of a crime. Even if you're digging on a site where you know there are human remains, and even though the people on your team are probably a lot more experienced than the coroner in working with old bones. I guess because otherwise archaeologists would always be hiding their bodies in ancient burial grounds?

This isn't uncommon in archaeology at all, it's called tree throw. It can really mess up your site interpretation if you aren't careful. The tree can pull up artifacts from time periods hundreds of years apart and jumble them all together once the tree rots away.
posted by TungstenChef at 12:21 PM on October 31, 2012 [15 favorites]


I love that in 1821 they moved the gravestones but left the bodies as is. Would really like to know the reasoning behind that decision.
It's much more common than not, in truth. You can walk into a churchyard in England, where the church has been about for the best part of a thousand years, and the gravestones might only cover a fraction of that. Stones older than 1700 aren't that common, and even earlier than 1750 are often missing. There used to be stones, but so many have gone for sundry reasons, and only the ones inside the church are kept. A fair few churches (especially in towns) seem to have used old stones as paving slabs, ground into hardcore, or even in Leeds just piled up on a railway inbanking. There are bodies everywhere which no longer have stones.

I remember going to Boston and looking at the stones in the colonial graveyards there, such as the Old Granary Burying Ground, and being amazed. Whole graveyards full of 1600s and early 1700s stones! I have never seen so many old stones together in one place in England. Look at Escomb, where the church dates from 670s, but the oldest gravestone I could find there was from 1703.
posted by Jehan at 12:25 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


The first thing you have to do when you encounter human remains is call the coroner to verify that they aren't the result of a crim

I guess that makes sense. The whole csi setup with the lights and portable gazebo and guards was just amusing. You would think they could put up police tape and come back in the morning.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:27 PM on October 31, 2012


I'm 50 and I totally would have pried that skull out of there. I may have taken it, but eventually my conscious would win out and I'd have returned it. To where, I don't know. But I've always wanted to own a skull. And honestly? 100 years from now I wouldn't care if someone found my skull and had some shenanigans with it.

Pretty sure that's a felony (but I'd have done the same thing don't worry)
posted by kurosawa's pal at 12:30 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are human bones buried all the hell over the place. Sure, get an archeologist from the local college but is this whole production really necessary?

There's an area in San Diego (La Jolla Shores, basically) that used to be an Indian burial ground. Or actually, a part of it used to be an Indian burial ground, and then in the 1950s or so they came in and graded the whole area and spread the Indian burial ground all over the place. So, every construction project in that area that involves digging foundations needs to have an archaeologist (there are firms in town that provide this service) and a Native American representative (also guys that do this professionally) oversee trenching for foundations in case anything turns up.

We also have a graveyard that was turned into a park where they moved most of the headstones but not the bodies; and the old cemetery in Old Town where they discovered that bodies were buried outside the bounds of the cemetery, and have since marked those graves with brass plugs, some out in the middle of the street and sidewalk that now run over them.
posted by LionIndex at 12:30 PM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


"There are human bones buried all the hell over the place. Sure, get an archeologist from the local college but is this whole production really necessary?"

Yes! There are laws! My husband works for a state historic preservation agency (not NY) and there is a woman whose job title -- the best job title in the WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD and it makes me question every life choice I have ever made that did not lead me to this job title -- is "human skeletal remains." Basically whenever human skeletal remains are found, you have to alert the state authorities who come out and take a look. They are typically carefully removed, cataloged, and, depending on the situation, reburied elsewhere or stored at the state surprise bones archive in case someone identifies them later. There are various concerns: Modern crimes or desecration of recent graves with living survivors; grave robbing of historically-important burial sites (which they caught someone doing with a BACKHOE in my state recently!); and desecration of religious burial sites that may not have any living advocates but that could potentially offend religious sensibilities. (This most often involves Native American burial sites near me, but can also involve old family or religious plots where everyone buried was Jewish or Catholic or Mormon or whatever.) Civil War artifact grave-raiding is currently popular in light of the sesquicentennial.

It's a misdemeanor, in my state, to fail to notify authorities that you found a surprise dead body. (It's not typically prosecuted unless you're trying to sell grave goods or human remains.) Once you've been warned you're required to report surprise dead bodies after failing to report the first one, it becomes a felony for subsequent violations.

"I love that in 1821 they moved the gravestones but left the bodies as is. Would really like to know the reasoning behind that decision."

In my city, they found a whole bunch of surprise old bodies when they went digging to expand an old Carnegie library branch: "Work on the library started in 1910 on the site of what had been called the City Cemetery. Opened in 1842, the cemetery was closed in 1886, during a time when there was fear the bodies would contaminate the public drinking water, officials said. The remains of at least 388 early settlers were moved to Springdale Cemetery."

Only, as I recall from following the story, it turned out the the guys who were supposed to move the bodies mostly just moved the bodies of wealthy people who might go looking for their dead relatives' bodies, and decided it was much easier to take the money and NOT move the bodies at all. They found (as I recall) most of the "pauper's graves" still on location, though marked as moved, and a whole section of children's graves, and a big mass grave from a cholera epidemic. It was a LOT of bodies.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:37 PM on October 31, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm 50 and I totally would have pried that skull out of there. I may have taken it, but eventually my conscious would win out and I'd have returned it. To where, I don't know. But I've always wanted to own a skull.

Dude you've already got one.
posted by Lou Stuells at 12:37 PM on October 31, 2012 [18 favorites]


Wow, I'm certainly converted and now understand the importance of not simply chucking skulls into the the nearest dumpster. It's great there are all kinds of people doing cool stuff with skulls out there.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:47 PM on October 31, 2012


bondcliff: At what point does a dead body being unearthed go from "horrible" to "awesome?" Because this is kind of awesome in a horrible way.
Reminds me of a story....

Friends of mine were traveling through Kansas, and stopped for supper at a steak house. Richard walked in, looked up, and said to the hostess, "Why do you have a painting of my Great-Uncle Fred up there?"
She excused herself, and brought the owner out.

Long story short: Doctor Fred was a wealthy St. Louis, MO, physician, who selflessly took it upon himself every month to travel by train to the backwaters of Kansas to doctor the poor, leaving his wife in charge of the family & house. Coincidentally, he was also the principal medical doctor of a town in Kansas, that regularly left his wife and kids behind in that western town to travel east to St. Louis to pick up medical supplies and so forth.

My friends were invited to the next (Kansas) family gathering, where they were jovially introduced as "Great-Grandpa's other family!"

So, as Richard noted: the difference between bigamy being a scandal, and a laughable in-joke, is apparently about two generations.

For comparison, consider the difference between dressing up for Halloween as Jack the Ripper, or as James Holmes.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:47 PM on October 31, 2012 [24 favorites]


I love that in 1821 they moved the gravestones but left the bodies as is.

There was a flood in Ipswich, Queensland, that moved the stones in the cemetery but left the bodies. Nobody could remember where the stones/bodies matched up, so they just re-erected the stones randomly, and avoided digging in certain places.
posted by b33j at 2:54 PM on October 31, 2012


I read someone else discovered it first, but it was a homeless woman who first called police.
posted by delmoi at 3:04 PM on October 31, 2012


Skeletons Are Everywhere!

posted by Artw at 3:19 PM on October 31, 2012


I would guess that at least part of the reason they didn't move the bodies in 1821 was because this was a mass grave for smallpox casualties. I have no idea how long a smallpox virus can stay viable in the ground (probably not long, this seems like nothing to be worried about now) but seems like they didn't know in 1821 either. It seems irrational to think that a grave this old would be dangerous, even if it were 50 years old, but that didn't keep me from being nervous as soon as I read "smallpox".

Curious, though: how long can a smallpox virus can stay viable, in the dirt or otherwise? I remember a couple of years ago someone had to find a grave from the 1912 Spanish Flu that was buried in permafrost in order to get a viable sample.

I was so waiting for post-hurricane zombies.
posted by wormwood23 at 3:54 PM on October 31, 2012


Light Graffiti Skeletons
posted by homunculus at 4:02 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Who put Bella in the wych elm?
posted by anazgnos at 4:39 PM on October 31, 2012


For comparison, consider the difference between dressing up for Halloween as Jack the Ripper, or as James Holmes.

I read this initially as H.H. Holmes and thought, "that is not much of a difference in timing, and I doubt one person in a thousand would recognize the costume."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:34 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really wish they hadn't felt obliged to describe the person who discovered it as 'a homeless woman'.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:40 PM on October 31, 2012


I like the idea of burying the woman again and planting a new tree.
posted by arcticseal at 9:38 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Cops planned to guard the bones tonight on the graveyard shift.

How much giggling was involved in putting this line in the article?"


I read that as "How much digging was involved in putting this line in the article?"
posted by iamkimiam at 2:18 AM on November 1, 2012


There's an area in San Diego (La Jolla Shores, basically) that used to be an Indian burial ground.

During the archaic period in the Mississippi valley they apparently burred their dead near the upper edges of the bluffs, which is all well and good except that the bluffs (and the river) have moved around a bit in the past 10,000 years. Of course, after 10,000 years of non-ideal conditions for preservation you're not likely to notice if you aren't paying close attention. Dust to dust as they say.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:33 AM on November 1, 2012


I read this initially as H.H. Holmes and thought, "that is not much of a difference in timing, and I doubt one person in a thousand would recognize the costume."


I think the odds would be better here in Chicago, and the fact that I'm reading this now, the day after Halloween, is pretty par for the course as far as great costume ideas go. Maybe if I just walk around with a copy of The Devil in the White City offering to sign it for people.

Oh my, I just suggested it to my partner and he's decided next year that we're going as Holmes and Daniel Burnham next year.

I doubt this will be true in 364 days, but thanks for the idea for now.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:58 AM on November 1, 2012


Oh my gods, I totally saw this Bones episode!
posted by Deoridhe at 2:09 AM on November 2, 2012


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