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Burials continue, despite frigid temps

Grave diggers Mount Greenwood Cemetery place cement box one graves. | Terrance Peacock~For Sun-Times Media

Grave diggers at Mount Greenwood Cemetery place a cement box in one of the graves. | Terrance Peacock~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 12, 2014 6:15AM



Families lose loved ones every day no matter the weather, leaving cemetery workers to work even in frigid conditions.

While many area cemeteries use machinery to dig graves, Chicago’s Mount Greenwood Cemetery does it the old-fashioned way —using shovels.

Paula Everett, president of Mount Greenwood Cemetery, 2900 W. 111th St., said workers there use shovels to dig each grave, despite this winter’s overwhelming cold temperatures. Everett said the cemetery previously used machinery to dig graves, but the grave diggers preferred doing it by hand.

“We had a machine,” Everett said. “The (workers) just found that digging with old-fashioned shovels was working better than the machine.”

A major difference between using machinery to dig graves and digging graves by hand is the time. Everett said it could take multiple hours to dig one grave by hand.

“For two men, it takes three hours to dig the grave by hand,” Everett said. “If we had machinery, the time would be significantly shorter.”

Not only does digging by hand take much longer, the grave diggers also have to endure all types of weather: rain, sleet and snow. And, throughout this winter, that’s also meant frigid temperatures.

Everett said for the workers, the weather can sometimes present a challenge.

“They are really bundled up,” Everett said. “I think they do take breaks when it’s really cold. With the snow they have to shovel snow off the grave. If there’s no frost it could go faster, but if there is frost they use an air hammer to break the ice.”

Luis Martinez has been working at Mount Greenwood for more than 40 years. Martinez said he bundles up when coming to work in cold temperatures but said weather can also pose a threat during the summer with extremely hot temperatures, although grave digging isn’t as difficult.

“We don’t mind digging by hand, especially because we don’t have that many funerals and burials,” Martinez said. “It’s easier to dig during the summer because the ground isn’t frozen.”

Everett said she has worked at Mount Greenwood since 1989 and the grave diggers have been there for much longer. Everett said she and the grave diggers have a great relationship.

“They’ve been here longer than me,” Everett said, “they’re really dedicated and I can trust them.”



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