When airlines double-book seats, customers get irritated. When a cemetery double-sells gravesites, people come unglued.
That’s what has played out in Post Falls since the city-run Evergreen Cemetery discovered last summer that three plots reserved by one family in 2008 were sold again and used for two burials. That came as a quite a shock to Jeannette DeHart, the Post Falls woman who held the original deed to the plots, as she prepared to bury her husband there last summer.
“I thought this was one thing I did right, to get the plots ahead of time,” DeHart said. “I wanted to keep the family all in a row.”
The mistake was due to poor recordkeeping by a former employee, and the city has spent months attempting to fix it and appease the families involved, said David Fair, director of the city’s parks and recreation department.
“We’ve tried to make the best of a bad situation,” Fair said. “We can’t go back and make everything perfect, obviously. But we’re doing what we can.”
Evergreen Cemetery sits along North Spokane Street near Prairie Falls Golf Club. It’s the final resting place of town founder Frederick Post and Civil War veteran John Wesley Conaway, who was awarded the Medal of Honor.
And it’s filling up fast, due in part to lot prices well below what Spokane-area cemeteries charge. The city plans to expand Evergreen onto property it owns immediately to the south.
DeHart paid $550 each for six adjoining plots there when her brother, Robert Radke, died in 2008. Robert was buried in one spot; DeHart and her husband, Gordon, planned to be buried in two others; and two more were reserved for another brother, Jim Radke, and his wife.
When Gordon DeHart died last June, the cemetery manager called Jeannette to tell her there was a problem. Because of the erroneous sales and burials, side-by-side spots were no longer available within the block she had purchased.
With only days left until her husband’s funeral, DeHart agreed to take two other spots nearby. The city worked out an agreement with an adjacent lot owner to relocate cremated remains, freeing up four plots next to the DeHart family block, Fair said. DeHart agreed to the change, and a new deed was issued. The city also waived some fees for the family.
But on a recent visit to the cemetery, DeHart said she really isn’t happy with the move. She said she would have preferred to stay next to the spots for her two brothers. She also thinks the new plots for herself and her late husband look too crowded amid older headstones.
“It’s not over for me,” she said during a recent visit to the cemetery. “Look at the little space.”
The city had offered the family a variety of solutions, including moving the remains of their brother or other relatives buried nearby. DeHart and Radke both rejected that idea.
“I said, ‘You sold me a lot that was his final resting place, and that’s where he’s going to stay,’ ” said Radke, who lives in Spokane.
The city also said they could bury DeHart on top of her husband or other family members in a single grave. The family balked at those suggestions as well.
“We tried a lot of things, but there’s a lot of family dynamics involved in this,” Fair said. “We understand that it was a very painful and personal time for them. And we tried to reach a timely solution that was acceptable to the family. I guess we thought we had it.”
Even before the city discovered its mistake, it had dismissed the cemetery sexton who double-sold the three plots. That man since has died.
The original sale to DeHart, Fair said, was not properly recorded in cemetery records, which led to three of the six plots being sold again.
“I think it was just plain sloppy recordkeeping,” he said. “Attention to detail is critical on this stuff.”
The city confirmed that the payments from all three families involved had been deposited in the city’s account. There are no missing funds, Fair said.
Meanwhile, the city has been working with the other families who buried loved ones in DeHart’s block of plots. Fair said the city is awaiting permission to move one of the caskets to a new grave.
The city knows of no other double-sold plots, Fair said.
But Radke advises that anyone who pays in advance keep a close eye on their future graves.
“I never thought that I’d have to go down there and keep checking to see if somebody else was buried in those spots,” he said.