Old graveyard surprises hospital construction crew

SAN JOSE, Calif.

"This is probably going to get more complicated before it gets less complicated," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese.

This really was an accidental discovery. Valley Medical Center is expanding its campus and when construction crews started digging, they found the coffins.

Crews discovered pine boxes thought to be the coffins of Santa Clara County's poor and indigent at the turn of the century. They could see the outlines of the boxes buried beneath the earth and right in the middle of Valley Medical Center's construction site.

"I think it's surprising because nobody realized that that cemetery was there," said Michael Rossi, the Santa Clara County Deputy Counsel.

The county is now rushing to trying to figure out how to handle this troubling discovery. County blueprints show a cemetery existed off of what's now Ginger Lane in 1932. Then 20 years later Michael pointed out there's a parking lot there in 1958.

The pauper's graveyard somehow got paved over and remained that way until February. When construction crews broke ground on a loading dock behind the hospital's emergency room, there are no detailed records for the cemetery, and no identities for those buried in the potter's field, which is believed to be massive.

"It can be projected from the 1932 map. We believe there could be up to 1,450 pine boxes located in that area," said Rossi.

"It's like a tiger jumping out of the zoo or something. Everything is going fine and all of a sudden, this happens," said Cortese.

Cortese is worried. The project is stalled until a court grants the county permission to remove the bodies. The hope is that once the boxes are opened, documents inside will reveal the occupants identities, and then they can begin the process of tracking down relatives.

"We're not going to rush ahead and rush forward to our project without figuring out how to deal with the human dignity and how to deal with any identification that we can," said Cortese.

The county will ask the court on Friday for permission to remove 100 boxes. That's how many they believe are in their immediate construction zone. The county is hoping to leave the other 1,350 untouched.

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