Dozens of coffins were dug up by construction workers turning a former parking lot near 2nd and Arch Streets in Old City into a new apartment complex, according to reports.
On Thursday, about thirty coffins were found on land set to be the future home of a 10-story, 116-unit apartment building with two underground levels of parking. The caskets were part of First Baptist Church Burial Ground established in 1707, around the time a 1-year-old Benjamin Franklin was scampering around, CBS3 reported.
The bodies of the children and adults were supposed to be moved to Mount Moriah Cemetery in Southwest Philadelphia around 1860, either by the buyers or sellers of the property at the time.
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“We’re trying to get them out as quickly as possible,” Kimberlee Moran, a forensics expert with Rutgers University-Camden,told Philly Voice.
“We’d love to do an archeological excavation, but we have to be realistic,” she said, referring to the construction timeline. “We could easily be here for months, but we’re doing the best we can.”
The discovery of the 30 caskets isn’t a shock, as old bones were discovered in the same area in November 2016 by a PMC Property Group contractor,according to Philly.com.
Lee Arnold with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania told Metro that while it doesn’t happen a lot, it isn’t an uncommon occurrence in a “big city with 300 years of history” as well as other areas of the country.
Whether bodies interred in land that changes ownersare never moved deliberately, due to cost or just the overall unpleasantness of the job, “the kindest thing you can say is they didn’t do a good job and left hundreds of caskets,” Arnold said with a slight laugh.
Once the bodies are excavated, Kimberlee Moran, an associate teaching professor and director of forensics center at Rutgers University, told CBS that any living descents will be found before the remains are reinterred at Mount Moriah Cemetery.
“We’ll try to find out anything that these bones can tell us about who these people were in life,” she said.
Arnold said he wishes cemeteries were given more care and attention. “A lot of churches can’t keep them up or they move or a lot of times cemeteries are for-profit operations and when they go under, they go under.
“I wish we did better by our dead people.”
— Ticia Verveer (@ticiaverveer) March 10, 2017
PMC Property Group Executive Vice President Jonathan Stavin told CBS3 that after the research is complete, the company will take care of the reburial costs.
Construction was originally slated for completion in April 2018, but it is still unclear how this discovery will impact the deadline. A spokeswoman for theMütter Institute, also involved in the recovery of the remains, told Metro that researchers are “cautiously optimistic” that the recovery will be complete on time.
“It’s not what a construction crew wants to hit,” Arnold added. “Bad PR, bad karma, disrupting the dead… It’s going to slow down production and cost them money, but they’ve got to make it right. It’s not their fault, but by God, they gotta deal with it.”
This article was originally published on March 10 at 6:32 p.m.