Monday, January 29, 2001

Even the forgotten are remembered when they die

By Allen Howard
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As a frigid breeze swept across the hilltop at Baltimore Pike Cemetery in North Fairmount recently, Dave Danner stood next to a plain wooden casket.

        “I am the resurrection and the life, said the Lord,” Mr. Danner read from the Bible.

        Then he offered a prayer for Dale Leggett, 64, who was being buried that morning.

        “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live,” Mr. Danner said, again quoting the Bible.

  The indigent burial program in Hamilton County dates to the mid-1800s. From 1849 to 1981, the county's indigent were buried at Potter's Field on Guerley Road in Price Hill
;   Potter's Field is the name given to burial grounds reserved for strangers and the friendless poor. The name comes from the New Testament. (Matthew, 27:7: “And they counseled together and with the money bought the Potter's Field as a burial place for strangers.”)
;   Funeral homes bid for the contract with the Hamilton County Human Services department to bury the indigent. Once a funeral home gets the contract, it is its responsibility to find a burial site.
;   Since 1981, Walnut Hills, Wesleyan, Baltimore Pike and Oak Hill cemeteries have provided space for indigent burial in Hamilton County.
;   Schaefer & Busby Funeral Services, downtown, which has the current contract, has arranged with Baltimore Pike Cemetery in North Fairmount for indigent burials. Less than 1 acre of its 110 acres is reserved for indigent burials.
        Mr. Leggett is one of 242 Hamilton County indigents buried at Baltimore Pike Cemetery in the past 10 years.

        He died alone in his apartment. Other indigents die in homeless shelters, at veterans hospitals and sometimes on the streets.

        Burying the unwanted can be emotional even for funeral directors.

        “The saddest part about the indigent burials is that some of these people are in their 80s and 90s and nobody knows them,” Mr. Danner said. “I try to treat them

        with respect because this is a human being and they deserved to be treated like a human being.”

        Mr. Danner, funeral director with Schaefer & Busby Funeral Services, assumes the role of a minister when no one is present, which is often.

        “Sometimes when friends or relatives hear about the burial later, they will contact me for a death certificate,” Mr. Danner said.

        “The saddest burial we had was about three years ago when a newborn baby was found in a sewer. I still remember that.”

        A person qualifies for an indigent burial if:

        • They are homeless.

        • No one claims the body.

        • They are referred to the Hamilton County Human Services Department by the coroner's office.

        In 2000, 31 indigents, including one veteran, were buried at Baltimore Pike under a state-mandated burial program run by the county.

        Under the program, the county contracts with private funeral homes to conduct the burials. Funerals cost $650, including the burial plot.

        In each case, a small marker with a number is placed on the grave. Kevin Reinhardt, cemetery superintendent, said he uses the numbers to keep track of where the graves are. Mr. Leggett, bur ied Jan. 11, is No.888.

        At Mr. Leggett's funeral, there were no relatives, friends or ministers.

        There was no music during the five-minute service, just the sounds of a cackling crow perched in a nearby tree and a police siren on Harrison Avenue.

        His grave is in a northwest section of the cemetery, overlooking downtown Cincinnati.

        His grave marker has no name. No date of birth. No time of death. The small markers are used to keep expenses down, Mr. Reinhardt said.

        Mr. Leggett's body, in a flattop wooden casket with a felt covering, was carried from an ambulance by two funeral directors, the superintendent and a cemetery employee.

        County records show Mr. Leggett died Dec. 15 in his apartment at 2028 Elm St. in Over-the-Rhine. Few people knew him because he kept to himself, said Doug Curtis, who runs a tire shop next door.

        “He was a very nice guy and had a sense of humor,” Mr. Curtis said. “He was confined to a wheelchair and I would go to the store for him three or four times a week.”

        Mr. Curtis said he never heard Mr. Leggett talk about sisters, brothers or children.

        “I did hear him mention his mother several years ago, but she never visited him.”


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