Hilldale Cemetery Association President Thomas Spitalere. (WHAV News file photograph.)
The Haverhill Conservation Commission wants to know if any wetlands were disturbed during the most recent cleanup at Hilldale Cemetery. That brush removal project played a role in the discovery of an unearthed burial urn this week.
A neighbor’s anonymous complaint about a possible wetlands violation brought Commissioner Ralph T. Basiliere to the cemetery Wednesday morning. It was Basiliere’s second visit later in the day with Conservation Agent Robert E. Moore Jr. that led to the discovery of a 1910 urn.
“There are flagrant wetlands violations. We became concerned that there was so much sitework that there might be disinterment of bodies,” Basiliere told WHAV. He said the cemetery had been previously cited for similar violations.
Cemetery Trustee President Thomas Spitalere told WHAV he would withhold comment until the Thursday, Nov. 15 meeting. The organization has cleaned approximately 65 percent of the site using mostly volunteers.
One of those volunteers, retired firefighter and Kimball Farm President Tyler C. Kimball said there is, at best, a misunderstanding. First, he told WHAV, he is not the one who unearthed the remains of Joshua Ordway. He said, “That urn did not belong anywhere near we were working. Someone picked it up.”
Second, he added, “I know my soil and I know my plants” and disputed there has been a wetlands violation. He said he worked at the site, cutting “widow-makers”—those dead limbs hanging loosely in trees, clearing brush and seeding land to protect it from erosion and invasive plant species. As someone who cares for Greenwood Cemetery, managed for many years by his mother Judith, Kimball said he would never do anything to desecrate a grave. He said he has used soil from his own farm to repair graves at Hilldale.
“Nobody maintained it for 30 plus years, and it turned into a forest. It was disgusting. It was a blight on this city,” Kimball said.
Basiliere said a half acre of land was cleared, a stream dug out and gravestones run over by a tractor. He added, “The fact pattern suggests that Mr. Spitalere would not let something like this happen to the gravesite. It’s up in the air what happened.”
Kimball said he is unaware of any graves being disturbed by his equipment, noting very high brush made visibility difficult, but that flat markers can be traveled across.
Asked about a stack of headstones, Kimball responded they are new markers donated by Atwood Memorial to identify existing, unmarked graves.