Los An­ge­les hon­ors 1,457 un­claimed dead in an­nual cer­e­mony that unites com­mu­nity

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By Tim Arango NEW YORK TIMES

LOS AN­GE­LES – They are the for­got­ten peo­ple of Los An­ge­les – 1,457 peo­ple, to be ex­act. Old, poor, home­less, ba­bies born pre­ma­ture and aban­doned. They may have died alone, but they were buried to­gether, in a mass grave, and were hon­ored to­gether this week in an in­ter­faith cer­e­mony that has been an an­nual rit­ual in Los An­ge­les for more than a cen­tury.

On a chilly Wed­nes­day morn­ing, on a green hill­side in Boyle Heights and just as the coun­try was pay­ing trib­ute to for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, Los An­ge­les County hon­ored what it calls its “un­claimed dead.”

“I think it is ap­pro­pri­ate that on the same day that we mourn the loss of a com­man­der in chief, we also mourn the loss of in­di­vid­u­als whose deaths did not re­ceive na­tional at­ten­tion, or much at­ten­tion at all, but whose lives were no less wor­thy of our recognition,” Jan­ice Hahn, a mem­ber of the Los An­ge­les County Board of Su­per­vi­sors, said at the ser­vice.

The county does not have to do this, but the tra­di­tion, which dates back to 1896, has be­come a sa­cred event for the many county work­ers – coroners, re­searchers – whose job it is to in­ves­ti­gate how peo­ple die. Their work is a long process of fig­ur­ing out who these peo­ple were and if there are loved ones look­ing for them. Nearly all of the for­got­ten An­ge­lenos hon­ored this year died in 2015 and in most cases a rel­a­tive was found but for what­ever rea­son – fi­nan­cial hard­ship, es­trange­ment – they did not claim the re­mains.

The county keeps a list on­line of each per­son’s name, date of birth, date of death, and the date of cre­ma­tion. All were cre­mated and some lived long lives: Maria Bulgier was 103 when she died; Grace Wetzel, 92. Oth­ers have no names. Baby Boy Manor is listed as be­ing born and hav­ing died on the same day: Oct. 6, 2015.

The county keeps re­mains for three years, and if no one claims them they are buried in the mass grave and hon­ored with a cer­e­mony on the first Wed­nes­day of De­cem­ber.

“Some of these in­di­vid­u­als were home­less, many were poor, some were new­born ba­bies, and trag­i­cally many of them have no loved ones to grieve for them,” Hahn said. “At one point, these peo­ple had par­ents. At one point these peo­ple had friends. At one point, these peo­ple laughed and loved and cried like the rest of us.”

For a big, sprawl­ing re­gion like Los An­ge­les County, the cer­e­mony is also an an­nual ex­er­cise in com­mu­nity – many mem­bers of the pub­lic re­turn, year af­ter year – in a place that can of­ten feel iso­lat­ing. Some 200 peo­ple at­tended this year.

Ste­fan Tim­mer­mans, a pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les, who re­searches how peo­ple die and how com­mu­ni­ties grieve, be­gan at­tend­ing sev­eral years ago as part of his work.

He has spent time with work­ers at the med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice, div­ing into files and go­ing on ride-alongs with coroners. But he has kept at­tend­ing the cer­e­mony be­cause he found it per­son­ally mean­ing­ful.

“I just find it also very mov­ing and very touch­ing that peo­ple come to­gether around this, and there’s some­thing very pow­er­ful about step­ping up to the plate, tak­ing time from LA traf­fic and your ev­ery­day life,” Tim­mer­mans said. “It con­trasts very strongly with the aban­don­ment of these peo­ple.”

He said the cer­e­mony was “sort of like an an­ti­dote to the iso­la­tion and alien­ation you can have in big cities, which is re­flected in the many un­claimed, about 1,500 in LA County ev­ery year.”

Phillip Gru­ber, who works in health ser­vices for the county, said he had been mean­ing to come for many years and fi­nally did this year, “to see how our so­ci­ety finds a way to honor peo­ple who have been apart. Our high­est ideal is to treat each other with dig­nity and re­spect no mat­ter who you are.”

Re­flect­ing the diver­sity of Los An­ge­les, there were representatives of many spir­i­tual tra­di­tions at the cer­e­mony: Chris­tian, Jewish, Na­tive Amer­i­can, Is­lamic, Hindu, Bud­dhist. A man with an oboe played Bach and a choir sang “Amaz­ing Grace.”

Those gath­ered placed flow­ers on the gravesite, on a plot of land that has long been a fi­nal rest­ing place for the for­got­ten of Los An­ge­les: More than a decade ago, the cen­tury-old re­mains of Chi­nese la­bor­ers were dis­cov­ered nearby as work­ers were dig­ging a tun­nel for the ex­ten­sion of the city’s sub­way.

Walk­ing back to the park­ing lot af­ter the cer­e­mony, Mary Bon­derove, who came from Whit­tier to at­tend for the first time, had tears in her eyes. “Ev­ery life mat­ters,” she said. Her friend Elena DeGarmo, a re­tired ac­coun­tant, has been com­ing for sev­eral years.

“Ev­ery life de­serves some­one to wit­ness the end of it and be a wit­ness that they were here,” DeGarmo said. “In LA, be­tween home­less­ness and poverty, peo­ple just get tossed away.”

New York Times

Lo­cal faith lead­ers and spec­ta­tors at­tend the burial of 1,467 un­claimed dead at the Los An­ge­les County Cre­ma­tory and Ceme­tery in Los An­ge­les this week. In an an­nual tra­di­tion that be­gan in 1896, the city’s for­got­ten – home­less, poor, new­born ba­bies – were hon­ored.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.