CRANSON, R.I. (WPRI) — Denise Wheat had not visited Roger Williams Park Mausoleum in Cranston since she was a little girl.
Her grandparents were laid to rest there in the 1940s. Her great aunt, whom she never met, was interred there in the ’30s.
On Tuesday, Wheat returned to the mausoleum for the first time in decades and watched as the bodies of her family members were removed from the crumbling stone structure.
All three—Dr. John Richardson, Maude Richardson, and Lucille Carlisle—were reinterred in a cemetery in North Kingstown where Wheat already owned family plots near her mother’s grave.
“That will really mean a lot to me to have them all together,” Wheat said.
“I think there’s a sense of peacefulness that has come with all of this,” Denise’s son, Stephen Wheat, added. “There’s a complete circle and a complete closure.”
The careful work took hours.
After stones were pulled away from the crypts, workers chipped away at a layer of bricks, revealing the caskets.
Two of the caskets had to be wrapped in plastic sheets because the wood succumbed to years of decay in a place that was supposed to stand the test of time.
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Funeral director Andrew Correia has coordinated disinterments from the mausoleum previously but said conditions have drastically worsened in recent years.
“It’s disgusting, really,” Correia said. “The ceilings are totally compromised, caved in.”
“This place, unfortunately, will remain exactly as it is until the state of Rhode Island, the speaker, the mayor work together to solve this problem once and for all,” he added.
After the mausoleum’s owners passed away, the court declared the stone structure abandoned in 2012.
Bob Cabral’s parents, Beatrice and Manuel, were among the hundreds of bodies trapped inside. In August, he told Target 12 about his desire to rescue his parents’ remains from the mausoleum.
“It would mean everything,” Cabral said. “It would mean closure because this has been a nightmare.”
On Tuesday, Cabral’s parents’ remains were also removed and transferred to the Veterans Cemetery in Exeter.
“Mr. Cabral was a World War II veteran, infantry, Purple Heart recipient,” said Annette Berarducci, the funeral director who coordinated the Cabrals’ disinterments. “He belongs, like every other human being, in a final resting place that has dignity.”
Despite a desire to remove all of the bodies from the building once and for all, a plan has never gained momentum.
“There’s not much you can do without the funds,” Berarducci said.
There is no estimate on what it would cost to remove the remaining bodies.
It’s also unclear exactly how many are still interred in the mausoleum. According to court records, 527 people were interred there, but the records are incomplete.
Correia said bronze plaques marking crypts are also missing.
“Now we don’t know who these people are,” Correia said. “I don’t know of any records in existence that can show who is in which crypt, and without those plaques, who are these people?”