HJ-ED-DHJ

August 13, 2007

Digging up heartbreak

Excavation for a home addition accidentally turned up a buried vault

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

What must have been heartbreak for a family decades ago, evidence a young life was lost, wasn’t expected by a rural Waverly family remodeling their older farmhouse.

When John Entinger of Woodland Township received a call at work Aug. 1 from a contractor who was working on an addition to his home that a burial vault was found during excavation, he thought the contractor was joking. When the tone of the contractor’s voice stayed very serious, Entinger realized this was no practical joke.

In fact, John’s wife, Colleen, was home at the time drain tile was being dug in the ground and heard the crew yell, “It’s a box!”

Colleen was informed by an employee of a local excavating company, Tony Kahle, that the excavator had struck what they thought was a rock. As the crew scraped more dirt from the area, it looked like a slab of cement. But when the bucket of the excavator knocked off what appeared to be a cement lid, the crew realized this was no ordinary piece of concrete, it was a cement vault.

The vault was located only about 30 to 40 feet from the house near remnants of a hedge from years past and near where an old pine tree once stood.

The top was about two feet under the soil surface, and the vault measured about 3.5 feet long by 20 to 24 inches tall, according to Colleen.

Colleen and the crew tried to keep the mood light by joking that possibly millions of dollars were hidden in the concrete structure.

“As soon as the lid was knocked off, dirt fell into the vault, so when the excavator tipped it (the vault) over to dump the dirt out, we could see that an object was in it,” Colleen said.

Colleen didn’t know what to do so she called the Wright County Sheriff’s Office and a deputy was dispatched within a half hour.

The shape and size of the object appeared consistent with that of a small child or infant.

“It was wrapped in a burlap-type blanket, then there was a layer of plastic, and then corrugated cardboard,” Colleen said.

The more the Entingers talked about the object to friends and family, and the more they thought about it, they think the cardboard was actually used as the coffin.

“I talked to a friend whose dad said that in the old days, infant caskets were made of cardboard because they didn’t want or have much money to put into the burial,” John said.

The cardboard caskets were likely lined with plastic, which is why a layer of plastic around the object was observed under the cardboard.

“This is what they did back then, they couldn’t afford to (formally) bury them. I think people would be surprised how often this probably actually happened,” Colleen said.

“To have an infant buried on a rural homestead is not unusual at all, it’s just not usual for them to be in a vault,” John said.

A coroner was sent to the site, as well as a transport. It took at least three hours for the team of professionals to process the site and load the vault into the transport. An autopsy was supposed to have taken place Monday, but the Entingers have yet to hear word of the findings.

The Entingers turned their land abstract over to the sheriff’s office and was informed that someone from the historical society would check old obituaries in search of possible clues to the body’s identity.

The Entingers were also told that the vault should have some sort of serial number on it that would aid in tracking historical information.

“We’re hoping to find the family and maybe they would want to bury it (properly). We’re hoping they don’t bring it back,” Colleen laughed.

“I think it’s very interesting, but knowing it’s out here and not knowing – it’s a big difference,” Colleen added.

“It’s a good conversation piece anyway at this point,” John said. “People have already called and said, ‘Ooh, ghost man,’ and that’s OK,” he laughed.


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