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Stabroek News

Graveyard shift - A tale of two gravediggers
published: Tuesday | January 16, 2007

Barbara Ellington, Lifestyle Editor


Warren Worrel (left) and Melbourne Collins cool out between digging graves at Dovecot cemetery. - photos by Junior Dowie/Staff Photographer

When someone dies, there's usually a wake, followed by the funeral and burial. In modern societies, the latter takes place at a public or private cemetery. These designated final resting places are usually convenient for visits from loved ones later on. Large cemeteries are usually neatly landscaped and run in an organised way.

Dovecot Park in St. Catherine is one of the most popular cemeteries in Jamaica. It is within close proximity to Kingston and St. Andrew and persons from farther afield also lay their loved ones to rest there. The property also has a chapel and a crematorium.

Graveyard shift

But have you ever wondered about the persons who are employed to Dovecot, or any cemetery for that matter? For them it's like working the graveyard shift everyday. And what about the silence? Lifestyle spoke with two gravediggers whose task it is to prepare the final resting places for persons unknown to them. It is what they do everyday except on their days off.

Warren Worrel is from Point Hill in St. Catherine and Melbourne Collins lives in Fraser's Content, also in the parish. Warren takes a cab, but Melbourne drives to work at Dovecot everyday.

New Year's Day is just another normal working day for both men. The two gravediggers have been employed to Dovecot for over eight years. Both men had somewhat regular employment in the construction and auto repair fields before taking on their present jobs, but this is now a regular and reliable means of living and it feeds their families and sends their children to school.

Dressed in dark blue overalls and swinging machetes, both rush to greet family members who make the trip on special days - such as New Year's Day - to visit their loved ones' graves.

Uneventful days

For the most part, their jobs are uneventful. There are no ghostly visitations, but even if there were, both men said they are not afraid of ghosts. There are no mysterious guests when they leave work in the evenings and none during the day either. Their days are deathly quiet, the tranquility of the atmosphere broken only by the occasional car engine or a helicopter flying overhead. When Lifestyle visited, there were a few other relatives who had come to pay respects to their loved ones and all were known to the workers by name.

"It is very quiet over here, but we are not bored. We listen to the radio, we love the quiet and we don't do any of the things people say we should do when you dig a grave, such as offer libations to the spirit. And when it's time for burial, if the casket is opened we don't look at the dead unless it is someone we know," Melbourne said.

CellPhones in Caskets

So, have they ever encountered ghosts at Dovecot? The answer was a resounding no. "People who come here all the time to visit their loved ones, say they have seen ghosts but we never see any," Warren said.

About the most exciting thing to have happened in the eight years since their employment is late mourners running them down to open a casket. Also, some relatives bury their loved ones with a cellphones and other workers claim to have heard the phones ringing but so far, they have not heard anyone responding to their callers from the bowels of the earth.

Melbourne also related the tale of a popular don who had been buried elsewhere with large sums of cash and tons of jewellery. He alleges that this man's grave was subsequently raided and the cash removed so his body was exhumed and brought to Dovecot where he is so far resting in peace.

DIGGING A GRAVE

The process takes between 30-60 minutes. Graves are still the standard six foot six inches in dimension (babies' graves are smaller) and there are four groups of workers who do an eight-hour day. They can complete three graves in a day, there is a lunch break and food is available at the canteen on location.

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