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Editorial: The most forgotten among us deserve a proper burial

Burial 24 bodies from Cook County Medical Examiners office pauper's grave Memorial Gardens Cemetery 600 Ridge Road HomewoodIl. Friday November

Burial of 24 bodies from the Cook County Medical Examiners office in a pauper's grave at the Memorial Gardens Cemetery 600 Ridge Road Homewood,Il. Friday, November 4, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: July 1, 2012 12:07PM

Even those among us who can’t be identified after death, or whose families haven’t got a dime, deserve a dignified burial.

That hasn’t been happening in Cook County. Earlier this year we learned that hundreds of bodies had piled up in the county morgue for months. Panhandler Reginald Hardaman’s body was left in a cooler for more than a year.

Just over 400 other bodies have been taken to Homewood Memorial Gardens in Thornton Township since 1983, under a contract with the county. But conditions there haven’t been exactly dignified, either. Bodies were stacked eight high, and some were packed into coffins with debris and unidentified limbs, sheriff’s investigators found.

The good news is that the Cook County Board and Sheriff Tom Dart are exploring an alternative that could restore dignity to the process and perhaps save money. We hope the county can make this work — or fix the current system of contracting out the job.

A proposal introduced by Commissioner John Fritchey Monday would have county officials investigate opening by Jan. 1 a new pauper’s cemetery, a business the county got out of in 1971. Fritchey has proposed a five-acre forest preserve-owned site on land next to the former Oak Forest Hospital, but is open to any site that works.

Dart says County Jail inmates could construct caskets and assist with burials.

Fritchey calls the county’s handling of pauper burials a travesty and says the conditions at Homewood Memorial were gut-wrenching. That has to stop.

It’s all about respect.

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