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County to Hold Prayer Service For Newly Found Graves

About 100 bodies contained in pine coffins will be removed to allow Santa Clara Valley Medical Center to proceed with a building project on the hospital campus.

County to Hold Prayer Service For Newly Found Graves

Santa Clara County officials will be holding a prayer service to remember and honor those buried at a cemetery discovered during construction at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, county officials said Tuesday in a press release.

A judge gave county officials permission in May to remove around 100 bodies from the forgotten so-called potter’s field and the service is meant to bring comfort to family members who believe their loved ones were buried at the site, the release stated.

The ceremony will take place at 2 p.m., Saturday, July 7, on the second floor of the two-story parking garage, overlooking the burial site. The garage is located at the corner of Ginger Lane and Middle Drive in San Jose.

Former Los Gatos mayor and councilmember Mike Wasserman, who serves on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors representing District 1, will be in attendance.

“Our hope is that the remembrance service will provide some comfort for the relatives of the individuals who were buried in the potter’s field approximately 100 years ago,” Wasserman said.

Others attending the service will include the Rev. Larry Wildemuth, Chaplain SCVMC; Bishop Patrick J. McGrath, Diocese of San Jose; Venerable John Chon, SCVMC Buddhist Spiritual Care Provider; Ouahiba Ahriz, SCVMC Muslim Spiritual Care; and Ram Sharra, Hindu community. Music will include bagpipes and a harp.

“The remembrance prayer service is an opportunity to gather together, take time to reflect on life, and respectfully prepare the ground spiritually and physically so their remains may be moved with honor and care,” said Rev. Wildemuth, chaplain of spiritual care services at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

The service is being held prior to the start of initial work to remove approximately 100 pine coffins and remains. The graves are directly in the path of construction and will be removed in a dignified and respectful manner, and dealt with in accordance with the law and current County practices for handling the indigent deceased. The estimated 1,345 remaining coffins contained in the graveyard will be left in their current resting place. 

Upon completion of construction, a second service will be held at an outdoor memorial area on the site where family members may go to give prayer or remember their loved ones.

The graveyard dates from between 1875 and 1935. The pine boxes were discovered in February when construction crews were doing grading work for the site.

In a map dated 1932, the cemetery is marked; but on a later map dated 1958 there was no cemetery identified. By 1966, there was an employee parking lot on top of the cemetery. Initially, 15 pine boxes were unearthed, but there may be as many as 1,445 pine boxes on the site.  This estimate is based on the area designated on the 1932 map and the spacing of the 15 boxes, the county said in the release.

While the county has some records of county hospital deaths from 1925 to 1940, the records do not indicate who may be buried in the SCVMC cemetery or in the particular coffins that need to be moved for the current construction, according to the release.

There does not appear to be any markers on the pine coffins, and because the coffins have not been disturbed, it is unknown whether there will be any identifying information buried within, the release added.

If information is found that identifies any of the 100 individuals buried in the coffins, the county will attempt to locate family so that they can claim the remains. In such cases, relatives may arrange for a proper private burial, the release stated.

The lack of information limits the county’s options under the law to move the remains. The county will address the disposition of unclaimed remains through the coroner’s procedures that include cremation and holding of the ashes for a period of 30 days so that any relatives/heirs who desire to do so can claim the ashes, it said.

Until Aug. 1, 2012, residents who believe their loved ones may be buried at the potter’s field, may contact the county by e-mail at Remains@ceo.sccgov.org or a phone message center at 408-299-5192 and give officials their contact information, the name of the deceased’s relative, relationship, approximate age at death (if known), gender, race, date of birth, date of death (if known) and any supporting documents about the deceased that might help with identification.

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