Angelic Blues

I am not superstitious nor do I have many idiosyncrasies about death. I know a lot of people do, but not withstanding, I don’t give a hoot about what happens with my body at that stage. I wholeheartedly subscribe to cremation and I am a registered organ donor, so take what you will before I become combustible. This leads me to my story concerning a minister who founded a church on the South Side of Chicago in the late ’30s. He must have been a persistent sort because he stayed with it and experienced the growth of his congregation by leaps and bounds. He passed away in the late ’70s. The church had grown, but wasn’t prosperous enough to build a monument to him. It was the height of ridiculousness that he was buried in a segregated cemetery. The church congregation continued to grow with his successor. After twenty-some odd years after his death, they were able to move him to an “equal opportunity cemetery”, which would not accept him right after he died. Given the location of this holy ground, one would have a hard time believing they would not accept his remains back then. A real travesty in my mind, because we are all created equal. Even before they dug him up, they had started construction in a mausoleum to honor his life and work.

I’m not sure what they expected after twenty plus years, but when he was unearthed he was a little soggy. The burial vault sprung a leak. His face and head were pretty much gone, but his white suit was primarily in tact. I have the photos in my file. The funeral director and church hierarchy were aghast. They brought suit against the vault manufacturer but not right away. Being the insurance rep for the carrier that insured the vault manufacturer, I got a real blistering earful from the current pastor. The funeral director was pretty upset too. By the way, they did move him to his new surroundings and had quite a ceremony within spitting distance of the mausoleum they had constructed. The church felt cheated because of his decayed state. The funeral director said he would lose business because his future clients were very upset. He explained that his condition upon being unearthed put them under a bad sign. Some might use the word spooked. The hierarchy of the church felt they might lose patrons because of this shameful situation.

They eventually filed suit, but before they did, they made a demand of $60,000 for the church and $100,000 for the funeral home. There were two strong considerations mitigating against them. Illinois law provides no protection, rights, or status for remains. The burial vault had a warranty that provided for the replacement of the vault with a similar one, and nothing more. There also was a question of coverage for a variety of reasons. When did the vault fail? The vault was sold in the late ’70s and no manufacturer can be held accountable for a defective product after 20 years.

The case was denied in writing to the church and the funeral director. The case was eventually dismissed by a judge through a directed verdict.

When I was out interviewing the funeral director and the pastor, they did their best to intimidate me with no appreciable success. I had a pretty good idea before I went out to interview them that the case was going to be denied. However, the carrier wanted the whole story before making their final determination about the merits of the case. I let them blow off steam and it seemed to me they were getting a lot off their chests. In retrospect ,I believe they had an idea their gambit wasn’t going to be successful, but they persisted anyway. I always say, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” By filing suit I think they were hoping to get a nuisance settlement, which would have been a fraction of what they were asking. The way I heard them tell this lurid account of anguish would suggest that hyperbole is alive and well.