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cemeteries inspecting gravestones

Combing the graveyard for wobbly tombstones

Published onsdag 2 november 2011 kl 16.10
How do you inspect a gravestone? Try shaking it.
(5:32 min)
Foreman of Sollentuna Church's cemetery, Errol Dahl, kneels by a gravestone that had to be taken down because it was unstable and thus unsafe. The relatives are now responsible for having the tombstone retrofitted, but contacting them isn't always easy. Photo: Brett Ascarelli / SR

A little over a week ago, a girl, just eight-years-old, tragically died in a freak accident at a graveyard – a tombstone fell on her. The Swedish Church has asked graveyard wardens throughout the whole country to take a look and make sure the gravestones are securely in place. While a lot of the churches Radio Sweden spoke to were still too busy preparing for All Saint's Day to begin (Swedes celebrate over the weekend), one in the Stockholm suburb of Sollentuna had already gotten a head start.

A cemetery is spread out over the lush grounds of Sollentuna Church, which dates back to the 12th century and is picture perfect : white with a coppery green roof. Yellow leaves are glowing in the setting sun, and the grass and the tombstones look very well kempt, but some of them are not as stable as they look.

The foreman of the graveyard, Errol Dahl, has been going around testing the tombstones to make sure they are safe. He does this by grabbing each stone with both hands and trying to wiggle it. The gravestones can easily weigh upwards of 100 kilograms.

There are about 3,000 gravestones in this cemetary – some a couple hundred years old – and Dahl along with two other workers are basically going around and doing this to every single gravestone. Their boss has given them a week to do it, and as of Monday afternoon, they were about halfway through.

Although one gravestone he points out looks like it is standing upright, it is not stable at all, and the stone makes an eerie sound when Dahl rocks it back and forth in its frame.

Using wood boards to cushion the gravestone from the metal clamps, Dahl and two other men carefully lift the tombstone off its frame and lay it down, face up. Dahl kicks some concrete away from the old studs that had anchored it so poorly to its stone frame, remarking that they are too short.

While taking the stone down was just a matter of a couple minutes though, how long it takes to actually fix it will be another matter altogether. He sticks a little green sign in the ground by the headstone, asking the person's relatives to contact the cemetery.

This grave has no flower bed in front of it, which means the relatives may not come regularly and could be difficult to reach.

The cemetary will also try contacting the relatives by phone or mail, but there is not always an address. So, these little green signs are one of the reasons the churchyard is trying to inspect all the tombstones by the end of the week. On Saturday, the church is expecting about 3,000 visitors coming to pay their respects for the celebration of All Saint's Day weekend, and Dahl says the cemetery staff plan to be on the lookout for relatives visiting these gravestones.

As of Monday afternoon, they had found some 20 faulty graves, but only one person had yet to be actually reached. They say that person is willing to spend the money – it can range up to 300 dollars - to have the grave retrofitted with new, rustfree studs. If relatives cannot be reached, the stones can be put into storage and the church can eventually rent the tombstone space to someone else.

Off in the distance, there's a girl dressed all in pink visiting one of the graves. She can't be much older than the child who died last month when a tombstone fell over and crushed her. That's the chilling reason why the Swedish Church has charged all its cemeteries to check the thousands upon thousands of stones. But is all this necessary or was it a horrible but freak accident? 

Tommy Mikaelson is in charge of the graveyard and explains that while they have never had an accident like that at this graveyard, he still believes it is a good idea to be on the safe side.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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