Q: You work in a cemetery. What’s it like?
A: When you drive in, the front gates open and it’s pretty impressive. There are these big wide gates and it’s kind of cool. There’s a big lake and mausoleum… a quarter of a million people are buried there.
Q: Are you serious? That’s a lot of people.
A: Yeah, and they can probably fit another 75-100,000, and there’s a new area of development in the back.
Q: How many people are buried there every day?
A: Maybe 10 people per day. It can be anywhere from 6-14. It’s pretty ridiculous. I think it’s the most popular cemetery in Cleveland right now. Other places are either out of the way or filled up.
Q: Did you know all of this cemetery information before you took this job?
A: I had no idea. When I was little my uncle was buried there and more recently my friend’s grandmother had died, so I had been there, but I didn’t know much about it.
Q: Where do you work?
A: There’s a brick building where most of the workers spend their time. And there’s a yard with trucks, loaders, forklifts, and stuff.
Q: Is your job like a construction job?
A: Well, we’re not building things; we’re digging holes.
During the winter the ground gets muddy and soft. We have to lie down 10 × 4 planks so the loader can drive on them. In one day you’ll have moved like 1000 of these boards. It’s the WORST.
Q: What other things do you do?
A: Last summer we weed-whacked the entire time. We had to weed-whack the grass over the stones. Each section could have 20,000 headstones. It would take like a month to do the whole cemetery. I’d spend like eight hours a day just weed-whacking.
Q: What are the other people like who work there?
A: There is one guy—Murphy—he has mild elephantiasis and narcolepsy and he has these coughing fits where his dentures will fly out of his mouth. He’ll put them in his front pocket and pop them back in later.
Also he’s obsessed with animals. He’ll see a squirrel and start driving off the road.
Q: What is elephantiasis?
A: It’s like these growths. They’re mostly on his elbows. He also has one on his chin and he grows out his beard to hide it.
The story is that he wanted to be a priest really bad when he was younger and at seminary he was part of a clown priest group. But they said he wasn’t cut out for it. He’ll still hum circus music and walk with it.
Q: How many people are employed by the cemetery?
A: Maybe 20-some people. Or 25-ish. Other cemeteries in the area will send some of their guys too if we need them.
Q: What else do you do?
A: For Memorial Day they put a flag on the grave of every veteran and afterward we have 80,000 flags to take off. There is a certain way to roll the flags up. They have boxes and boxes of these flags.
We pick up all the dead flowers, the plastic flowers, other items left on graves, and we throw them away.
Q: How do you know you’re not throwing away things that people wanted to leave there?
A: Sometimes we leave stuff. Like there’s a baby section… one time a lady left a Mountain Dew bottle and somebody picked it up. This lady came in later and said, “Did you pick up the Mountain Dew bottle? It was the last drink my son drank before he jumped in the pool…”
They had to go dumpster diving to find it.
People leave the strangest stuff. I remember at Halloween someone left a full scarecrow tied to a tree… at Christmas someone had taken a hydraulic lift and put a 5-foot-tall cross into the ground. We had to have a forklift come to get it out.
Q: Is it ever creepy there?
A: In the morning in winter when it’s still dark… it’s not necessarily creepy though. The closest is when you’re alone, especially in this one mausoleum where natural light is coming in and the skylights are covered in snow…
Q: Anything strange written on gravestones?
A: Most people have a generic saying like a bible quote or “Forever with God.” Nothing that weird.
I’ve been on burials… there was a guy who was killed in Iraq a few years ago and a month after he was buried we got the call saying, “We have the rest of him.” So they had to dig him up.
Q: What’s that like?
A: People are buried in a 1000-pound concrete vault. They drop off the vault in the morning and we take it and put it in the ground with the lid off to the side. Then we cover it with a green four-piece wooden box thing, so if you stand on it, you won’t fall into the hole. Then the green carpet/fake grass goes over it.
Q: So it’s not like the movies where a few guys with shovels can dig someone up?
A: You’re not getting it out any time soon.
Another thing we do—we put up tents by the gravesite. We have a truck that we call the tent trailer. Tents are a bitch to put up. It takes two-three guys and fifteen minutes of your time. We get MAD when we’re called in for a tent.
Q: You know, at my grandfather’s funeral we had a tent.
A: Umm, well…
Q: Have you seen dead people while you’ve been working there?
A: I’ve seen none. I’ve had someone hand me a cremation but that is the closest I’ve come.
Q: When you die, will you be buried there?
A: I’d get a free plot, so I got that going for me. That’s $1000 of my own money that I don’t have to spend.