The Burial Plot Thickens: A Find a Grave Mystery
A few years ago I got a request for Pietro Domenici at Mount Calvary Cemetery here in Albuquerque. I found the marker, which you can see in the featured image. There’s nothing in the photo for scale except grass, but it’s the size of a common brick…that’s because it IS a common brick, with an engraved metal plate attached to it. The plate is maybe 2X4 inches.
I didn’t think much of it because I’ve seen these bricks before, mostly in very old, very poor cemeteries. It did seem a little unusual in this nice, manicured cemetery, though, and for such a recent burial.
I got home to upload the photo to the Find a Grave site, where I saw a photo of 6-term Republican New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici. I thought, “What’s this doing here? Did I get the wrong page? Wait…OMG…is my Pietro really Pete Domenici?!” I found his Wikipedia page and the dates matched.
I asked my Facebook community about it, because many of them are long-time New Mexicans who know more about local politics than I do:
What do you think it means? Was he and/or his family just very frugal? Did something bad happen to his estate? The only clue to his financial status is the internet (I know) which states that his estimated net worth was $968,009 in 2007. Perhaps he was persona non grata after the 2013 scandal? Still, kinda sad that he only gets a brick to commemorate his life, no?
His Celebration of Life was held at Isotopes Stadium, after all, according to his obituary.
No one knew the answer, but one theory — thanks, Miriam Ortiz y Pino — was that it was a placeholder for a fancier headstone that had not yet arrived. Although the other bricks I’d seen were decades old and not likely to ever be replaced with a fancier headstone, I followed up on that theory.
Facebook Update #1:
Spoke to a cemetery employee. The bricks are what people get who have no headstone. It is not an indication of class, as there are many reasons why people don’t have headstones. One I hadn’t thought of is that sometimes the spouse thinks it’s bad luck to have a double gravestone prior to their own death. It’s possible that a gravestone is on order, but it only takes 6-8 weeks to get one made (it’s been over a year). They are not aware of a headstone being on order, but if it were ordered elsewhere they wouldn’t know about it anyway until time to place it.
I myself once had a grave marker placed for an ancestor decades after his death, although this was at a different cemetery that did not use bricks to mark burial plots. So the delayed headstone theory seemed logical, especially for a person of prominence. Until….
The plot thickens!
When I looked him up again I found A SECOND Find a Grave listing for Pete! WHAT?
Facebook Update #2:
Facebook Update #3:
Ahh, this is how they are able to sell the crypt. No one is buried there yet. This is his wife’s Find a Grave listing. The rest of Pete’s family (parents, sisters) are buried at Mt. Calvary, but not in the same section as his brick.
I hadn’t thought about ol’ Pete for a while, until a Facebook memory popped up today, reminding me of this fun little mystery from 2018. I just checked his Find a Grave listing again, and, sure enough, ten months later a nice headstone was placed in the spot where the brick had been. Or, at least that’s when the new photo was uploaded to Find a Grave. It matches the location of the brick I saw in 2018 (my photo of which is still on the site). I know it’s the right spot because of the crucifix monument shown in the background, looking west from the headstone.
Here’s a map showing the crucifix monument (in the traffic circle) and the long, skinny San Ignacio section radiating East from there.
Grave Lessons Learned
So, what did I learn (and what knowledge was reinforced) from this experience?
- Don’t take everything you see on Find a Grave at face value.
- Don’t read too much into a simple (or missing) grave marker.
- It never hurts to crowdsource a question on Facebook.
- It’s even better to ask someone who might actually know, like a cemetery worker.
- A gravestone might not actually be marking the actual burial place of a body.
- Burial plots and tombs are easily sold if no one is buried there yet.
- Graveyards are affiliated with, and often adjacent to, churches. Cemeteries aren’t.
- Nancy is apparently not superstitious about having a headstone with her name on it.
What unusual situations have you encountered in cemeteries and graveyards?
Please share in the comments!
Copyright 2022 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life and Beyond
Author of What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy
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