Human Remains in Dubuque to be re-buried - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Human Remains in Dubuque to be re-buried

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -- Human remains from possibly hundreds of bodies buried and then excavated in Dubuque will reach their final resting place this week.

The human remains are from Dubuque's old Third Street Cemetery. It closed in the 1870s, and archeologists say records show the bodies were re-buried elsewhere.

However, not every body left its original resting place. The discovery of human remains there in 2007 turned the land from the construction site of luxury condos to an archeological excavation site.

Now, archeologists in the fenced-off former Third Street Cemetery have found evidence of more than 800 possible burial sites. State archeologist John Doershuk said evidence of a possible burial site can range from bone and coffin fragments to a full skeleton.

The number of potential burial sites is surprising, considering developer A.J. Spiegel, who bought the land from the Sinsinawa Dominicans of Wisconsin in 2002, thought all human remains had been moved elsewhere, years ago, according to court documents.

Spiegel filed a lawsuit against the Dominicans in 2009 for failing to inform him of the possibility of remaining human bodies. The documents also show the Dominicans say they did not provide any false information.

Despite expectations, evidence of hundreds of unmoved bodies did show up, and any construction plans halted to take care of the issue.

Doershuk said under the Iowa Burial Law, any body 150-years-old or older is considered ancient and must be treated according to the law. He said a judge ruled that every potential body found in the former Third Street Cemetery be treated as ancient, so archeologists are studying the remains before turning them over to Pat Leonard, a Dubuque funeral director.

Leonard said many of the bodies are unidentified.

"A lot less documented," he said, of the era in which they were buried. "No health departments, no rules, no regulations. It was a matter of necessity to bury the dead."

Leonard is also the superintendent of Mount Olivet Cemetery. That's where bodies from marked graves were re-buried when the Third Street Cemetery closed in the 1870s.

"This area here has always been on our books as the Third Street Cemetery," Leonard said, gesturing to a cluster of light-colored grave markers.

Mount Olivet is also where many of the newly-uncovered bodies will come to finally rest this week.

"We are placing them into what we call a modern burial vault," Leonard said.

Even though the bodies were buried in the Nineteenth Century, Leonard said they will be given a proper burial now. He said the Third Street Cemetery was an Irish Catholic cemetery, so he plans on respecting the wishes of the original family and honoring the Catholic duty of interring the dead.

Online Reporter Becca Habegger

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