Babylon Town will inspect discarded tombstones used as fill at jetties

Discarded tombstones help to form a rock jetty Discarded tombstones help to form a rock jetty in Oak Beach on Thursday, July 24, 2014. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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Babylon Town officials will inspect discarded tombstones used as fill on Oak Beach jetties after a Queens man saw names on several stones earlier this month.

Tombstones stockpiled in the Oak Beach parking lot for possible future use also showed several visible names.

Those stones, which came from St. Charles/Resurrection Cemeteries in East Farmingdale, should have been inspected for names and religious symbols before delivery and those marks should have been removed, town officials said.

Howard Schoenfeld of Queens, who visited Oak Beach recently, said he saw names on gravestones and thought he'd stumbled on evidence of grave desecration.

The truth is less sinister: a decades-old Babylon Town effort to shore up barrier beach jetties using discarded tombstones donated by some of the many local cemeteries and monument companies.

"Money was tight, federal relief money was slow in coming," said Brian Zitani, the town's waterways management supervisor, recalling busy days after Hurricane Gloria hit in 1985, when he and his colleagues scrambled to repair eight Oak Beach jetties.

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State environmental regulations had also changed, officials said, barring use of recycled concrete and mandating more expensive quarried stone.

The tombstones met that standard. And there were a lot of them: When Long Island monument companies and cemeteries found carving errors in stones or swapped a stone out after a disinterment, they tended to stockpile the old ones.

"Here's this source of free material: Why not take advantage of it?" Zitani said.

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Using them saved the town nearly $200,000 on the jetties project, town spokesman Kevin Bonner said. More were used at Venetian Shores Park in 1991. Another load, including some stones from St. Charles/Resurrection Cemeteries, is now sitting in the Oak Beach parking lot, awaiting possible use in a project to repair damage superstorm Sandy did to nearby Oak Beach Road.

Wave action from a powerful storm like Sandy can flip the stones or uncover what was previously buried, Zitani said, leading to sightings like Schoenfeld's.

One stone memorialized a woman who died in 1924 at the age of 27. Another read: "Beloved husband and dear father . . ."

"Very odd," Schoenfeld said last week.

Zitani said he would drive out to Oak Beach and investigate the feasibility of flipping those with exposed names or religious symbols.

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One woman with a family connection to the stones said she was happy that they were being reused.

"I think it's a good idea," said Ida Bach, 64, a retired bookkeeper from Ocala, Florida, formerly of Shirley, whose dead husband's family stone was in the pile in the parking lot.

Her husband, John Peter Bach, died July 31, 2012. "I'm very sad. We were married almost 42 years," she said.

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