Mourning Family ‘Devastated’ by Cemetery Burial Problem

Greenwood Cemetery (WHAV News photograph)

The Green family plot at Greenwood Cemetery, East Broadway.

Family members say this tree has grown into their mother’s and grandmother’s burial plot at Greenwood Cemetery.

Family members say this tree has grown into their mother’s and grandmother’s burial plot at Greenwood Cemetery.

A mourning Haverhill family is in despair after learning their deceased 86-year-old mother and grandmother can’t be buried as planned Wednesday because a local cemetery is broke.

Evelyn D. Sullivan, 86, who died Friday night, wished to be buried in the family plot at Greenwood Cemetery, off East Broadway. Her family, however, said uncontrolled tree growth makes that impossible. A cemetery official told the family the woman would have to be instead cremated—contrary to her wishes—if she is to be buried with other family members.

“Oh, I was devastated. I was devastated,” said her daughter, Leslie A. Brown, who is making arrangements along with her brother, Michael J. Sullivan.

Brown and her daughter, Tanya King, went to the cemetery Saturday. They say the sole surviving trustee of the cemetery, Judith Kimball, told them a tree blocking the site couldn’t be removed. Kimball reportedly gave them the option of burying a cremation urn or buying another plot instead.

“My mother is not going anywhere. This is what I told her. My mother is not going anywhere else in this cemetery. She is staying right here with here family where she belongs,” Brown said. She added her mother would never have consented to be cremated.

Sullivan was a longtime resident of 150 Riverside Ave. George and Dorothy Green purchased the grave site in 1957 and believed it contained six full burial plots. It was last used in 2010 when daughter Emma (Green) Jordan was laid to rest. Brown said she hopes to meet with Kimball today.

“(The tree) has to come down. That’s my grandfather’s plot. He bought it. That tree was not there in 1957, He would not have paid for a plot with a tree in it,” Brown said. While visiting the cemetery, she said, they encountered the family of Robert L. Capen, who passed away earlier this year, who were there maintaining his gravesite.

“They had had problems in April with Kimball. Their brother had passed away and Kimball wouldn’t open the grave up for them. They had to hire another company and pay $2,000 to have it opened.”

Attempts to reach Kimball were unsuccessful at deadline.

Richard R. MacDonald, the city’s director of inspectional services, said the cemetery is private and outside of the health department’s jurisdiction, except for the issuance of a burial permit.

“We have not received a request yet. We shall not hesitate to issue a burial permit. It is a very difficult situation for the family I’m sure,” he said.

Some Older Cemeteries in Financial Distress

The situation at Greenwood Cemetery highlights a problem with paying for maintenance at older burial grounds.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan has highlighted similar concerns about overall conditions at Hilldale Avenue cemetery. Sullivan said he hadn’t heard of problems at Greenwood, but if claims prove true, “It merits further investigation.”

“With the help of new people over at Hilldale, they’re making some progress. It’s going to take a year.”

Peter A. Carbone, a member of the Haverhill Board of Health, told WHAV he is not aware of such a problem coming before the board. Speaking only as a private citizen, however, he said, “People bought it in good faith. They should get their gravesite. Whatever money they paid should be earning interest to pay for maintenance.”

Non-profits are supervised by the Commonwealth’s attorney general. The attorney general enforces rules about money held in trust, distribution of a defunct organization’s assets and general governance of such organizations. However, cemeteries are usually organized as cemetery corporations and not as charitable non-profits.

The cemetery, founded in 1785, is well known to historians as containing the grave of Mary Ingalls, Countess de Vipart, whose story John Greenleaf Whittier immortalized in the poem, “The Countess.”

2 thoughts on “Mourning Family ‘Devastated’ by Cemetery Burial Problem

  1. So it’s private. Businesses are private as are houses, ect. They STILL fall under local inspection services and are restricted as such. So what is the problem here ? The city needs to take action. Where is the Mayor ? He inserts himself in every issue all the time to get a photo op, where is he now ? Do something for a change !

  2. Of course, you can’t actually see the Countess’s grave. In 1985, it was “temporarily” removed by cemetery trustees after being knocked down in a traffic accident. I assume the insurance claim money is safely sitting in escrow and the headstone will be replaced momentarily – 1986 at the latest. Oh, wait…