SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

June 16, 2014

Resident complains of disrepair at cemetery after spotting remains

Salem attorney alleges Harmony Grove fails to honor 'perpetual care' duty

SALEM — Buffum Street resident Michael Marsille said he was driving through Harmony Grove Cemetery last weekend when he came across an open tomb.

The piece of plywood at the front of the tomb had rotted away and been thrown aside, and looking in, the self-described amateur historian was shocked at what he found.

“You look right in the tomb; you can actually go into it, and there’s a half a skull, leg bones and a smashed coffin,” Marsille said. “It’s disgraceful. It’s disrespectful to the dead.”

Although Marsille said the tomb’s opening was quickly bricked over after he complained to Margie Lavender, the cemetery’s superintendent, he pointed to other examples of disrepair, including toppled headstones and other tombs secured with plywood.

“It totally flies in the face of the whole point of perpetual care,” he said.

“Perpetual care” is a benefit that came with the purchase of some plots at the cemetery, which is a private, nonprofit corporation. Marsille, an attorney, said he has now filed a complaint with the attorney general’s charities division alleging that the cemetery has failed to honor that duty, what he called a “breach of trust.”

What makes it worse, Marsille said, is how much money the cemetery has: nearly $7 million, according to tax records from last year that were accessed via CitizenAudit.org, a website that offers digitized financial records of nonprofits throughout the country.

“This is money that’s supposed to be used to maintain and preserve the cemetery,” Marsille said.

Lavender declined to comment for this story, forwarding all questions to Will Phippen, vice president of the cemetery’s board of trustees. Some of the plots did come with perpetual care, “where that was opted for,” he said. “Not all of them.”

It remains unclear whether the tomb in question was supposed to receive perpetual care, but Phippen said that vandalism has been a persistent problem at the cemetery and that Harmony Grove is always “glad to have those things brought to our attention.”

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