Discovery Of Cemetary Stymies Homeowner, CU

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A member of County-City Credit Union here had to borrow, beg, then plead with state officials for 16 months to spend her home improvement loan after workers discovered the head of a skeleton within the home's foundation.

Turns out the house, whose mortgage is held by the $16-million CCCU, sits atop the city's first documented burial ground. The head and the rest of the bones that were later uncovered by state historical society officials belonged to a 50-year-old male who died of natural causes in 1840. He and the skeletons of two infants had apparently been forgotten when the cemetery was sold and the majority of the bodies were moved to other plots.

Certainly, nobody could have imagined the hassle for the homeowner some 160 years later who simply wanted to repair a damaged foundation.

"Her house sat on dirt," said Tom Pinnow, CEO of the community-chartered CCCU. "The foundation was starting to wash out."

Unfortunately, he said, the renovations were put on hold after the work crew found the skeleton just as they started to dig beneath a foundation wall. The Wisconsin Historical Society shut down the job, citing laws that prevent the digging in burial grounds.

Making Matters Worse

To make matters worse, Pinnow said, WHS's chief archeologist examined the site and said their might be more bodies, but refused to continue his search until the building was inspected for safety.

"They wanted to make sure they could dig there without the house falling down on them," Pinnow said.

Only problem, there wasn't a single home inspector in the area willing to take the job.

Pinnow said the homeowner used the winter months to write letters to state historical society officials asking that an exception to its digging law be granted. She had expected to be able to resume the work by spring, he said.

"When she still did not hear from anyone by August, we literally beat our heads on the wall trying to figure out what to do," Pinnow said. He said the taxes on the home were piling up, putting it at risk of foreclosure.

He said it didn't help that the member's daughter-who had been renting the property when the initial renovations got under way- was severely injured in an automobile accident and had to move back home.

"So the house just sat there empty," Pinnow said. "It wasn't being rented and it wasn't in any condition to sell."

He said the credit union restructured the member's finances to keep her from losing the home. At the same time, Pinnow joined the efforts to get the situation resolved.

"I contacted the local historical society," he said, adding that when they heard that the deceased man's head was in Madison, Wis., and his hip bones had been sticking out of the ground at the renovation site for 16 months, they were appalled. It didn't hurt that the story was also leaked to the local newspaper and television stations, he said.

"About a week ago, (the member) got the release she needed to go ahead with the project," Pinnow said.

She doesn't walk away unscathed, Pinnow said, noting that her expenses for taxes, insurance and utilities while the project was on hold totaled $8,000.

Funeral Director, Excavator Help

"The state would not help her," he said. "They wouldn't do the job themselves and they wouldn't free up the property for her and they say they have no money available to help her."

Still, he said, the member along with a local funeral director and an excavator are working together to properly dig up the bones and give them a proper burial at a nearby cemetery.

"They want to make sure the bones are treated respectfully," he said.

Pinnow, who has been granting loans for the last 25 years, said this is by far the strangest situation he's ever encountered. No bones about it.

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