Where the bodies are buried

By Sally Carpenter

On the day of Nancy Reagan’s funeral at the presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., I opened a second screen on my computer at work and during the service peeked in from time to time to check out the proceedings.

At the end of the lengthy service, the honor guard carried the casket outside and placed it on a pedestal. In my experience attending funerals in the Midwest, I was expecting the casket to be lowered into the ground next to the president’s resting place. Instead, the broadcast coverage ended with the casket still sitting outside in the rain.

How odd, I thought. Did the network run out of airtime or was the casket going to be buried later? In my research, I found the same situation happened at Ronald Reagan’s service as well—the internment of his casket was not shown to the public.

As a mystery writer, such things intrigue me.

Turns out, showing the actual entombment of Mr. Reagan’s casket would not be practical. First, the casket was placed in a bronze-lined vault inside a crypt. The casket and vault together weighed 4,000 pounds, and heavy machinery was needed to move both. The noise and sight of such a machine would hardly inspire a reverent atmosphere. Then workers replaced the earth over the crypt and installed a concrete walkway, not the stuff most people would care to watch.

 Mr. Reagan’s crypt was sealed at 3 a.m. with only some Secret Service agents along with library and mortuary personnel on hand. The Reagan family had left hours before.

 Mrs. Reagan’s casket, also no doubt placed in a heavy vault, was entombed in the crypt alongside her husband’s. A friend told me that Nancy’s casket was taken back inside the library, placed on an elevator, and transported several levels down to the crypt, which apparently has an underground entrance. That made sense. Lowering in the casket from topside would involve tearing up the concrete flooring on which Mr. Reagan’s headstone sits.

 While this sounds like much ado, vaults and a crypt are good from a security standpoint to protect the bodies from vandals attempting to dig or blow up the gravesite.

 Simi Valley has another interesting burial story. A few years ago the El Rancho Pioneer Cemetery came under fire when a family discovered a loved one had been buried in the wrong grave, and that the site management may have been double- or triple-booking plots to families.

 Other cities have tales of coffins floating away during heavy rains. Or an earthquake uprooting bodies. And I recall reading of a plan in a particular city to move bodies from a cemetery to make way for a development project.

 A mystery writer doesn’t let the dead rest in peace. Interesting burials and missing bodies are the stuff of a good story.