HARTLAND, Vt. (AP) – When Michel Guite’s wife found the 130-acre property, it was exactly what the couple wanted: an old Vermont farm on a chunk of undivided land with mountain views, rolling hills and meadows.

There was one wrinkle: The property included a small family cemetery – with the grave of a War of 1812 veteran – on a scenic knoll.

His plan to move it has unleashed an outcry, with the town passing a resolution to help stop the move, a descendent of one occupant trying to fight him in probate court and concerned people, including veterans, asking the town to take over the cemetery.

“We’re looking for some precedence setting, because we’ve never heard of such a heinous thing,” said Tom Giffin, president of the Vermont Old Cemetery Association.

Cemeteries have been dug up for public good before, to build roads and buildings, but “there’s never been the case in the state of Vermont for somebody to move a cemetery to put a house up,” he said.

Opponents say it’s about honoring the dead, and respecting the cemetery as a part of the history of the town and the country.

For Guite, it’s about property rights.

“I’ve got nothing against any of those people. I’m only going to buy this if a judge says “This is now your land, it’s your private property, you’re allowed to do whatever you want with it. We hope you look after it well, God bless you for it, and nobody has any right to go on your property than they have to go on every other Vermont farm’s property.”‘

Guite, 62, of Greenwich, Conn., signed to buy the land in December – provided he could move the graves.

The hilltop graveyard, surrounded by a white fence, has two large trees and a stone bench outside.

Guite wants to move the only graves that he says are registered with the town, that of War of 1812 veteran Noah Aldrich II, who died Jan. 15, 1848 at age 61; and Aldrich’s two grandchildren, who died within a day of each other in 1850 during a flu epidemic.

After talking to archeologists and descendants of the people buried in the cemetery, he proposed to move the graves and restore their headstones to another spot – perhaps on his land, perhaps in the town cemetery.

But historians say there are more than three graves, including that of Aldrich’s wife, Lydia. And a local man, Jerome King, of Hanover, N.H., buried his parents’ cremated remains there before selling the farm in the 1980s.

To accommodate the descendants of the Kings, who visit several times a year to plant geraniums and clean up, Guite has offered one visit a year, relocation of the grave to a local cemetery and a $5,000 donation to the Hartland Historical Society.

But the offers haven’t swayed those who believe the Aldrich Cemetery dead should rest in peace.

“I’m against it on principal,” said Jim Bulmer, a member of the Bridgewater American Legion who attended a Probate Court hearing on the issue with about 10 other veterans. “You’ve got a veteran in there from the war of 1812, who has come to his final resting place and let the poor guy rest in peace. He served his country. Why do we need to move cemeteries to accommodate an individual who has a particular agenda?”

Concerned residents petitioned the town to take over the cemetery in order to preserve it, but the Selectboard balked at the request, despite a letter of support from the Hartland Historical Society.

“Our mission is preservation of Hartland history, and self gratification doesn’t seem to be a good reason to move a cemetery,” said Rosemary Morancy, president of the Historical Society.

Typically, when a landowner finds an old cemetery on their property, they find it interesting and want to preserve it, said Giffin.

Moving bodies is not unusual, such as if a spouse wants to be closer to their deceased, said Jimmy Johnston, a lobbyist for the Vermont Funeral Directors’ Association, and owner of the Barber and Lanier Funeral home in Montpelier.

“Moving graves of someone who is not a family member, unless it’s eminent domain, I’ve never heard of one being moved to build a house,” he said.

Burying family members on the farm or on other private land has its downside, said Bob Fells, general counsel for the International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association, in Sterling, Va.

His organization hears from people concerned about what happens when they sell the property, if the new owners won’t give them access.

“There’s a whole host of problems because cemeteries are sort of forever,” he said.

But in most cases, the law favors the dead over the living.

“Usually, gravesites are not moved and disturbed unless there is a good reason to do that,” he said.

Guite says he followed the law, advertising the move in the newspaper with no objection from immediate relatives.

But in a recent hearing before a probate judge, the argument seemed to focus on how many generations should have a say.

Judge Joanne Ertel designated Marcia Neal, of Grand Junction, Co., the great, great, great granddaughter of Noah and Lydia Aldrich, a representative for the family.

“I’ve begun to feel a real personal connection to these people,” Neal said.

Although her first inclination would be not to move the graves, she wants to find a solution.

“It has become so involved and sort of complicated. I’d hate to stand in the way of anybody’s right to buy and sell property. I would really like to be able to help reach a solution to the problem. I’m not sure what they would be.”


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