Controversy over Civil War veteran’s burial site at Ionia County cemetery

Posted at 5:48 PM, Jun 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-23 17:48:18-04

IONIA TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- There's concern that part of a Civil War veteran's final resting place, along with his son's, may have been destroyed at an Ionia County cemetery.

What used to be the burial vault for Albert Clark and his son is now just a grassy patch.   Ionia Township officials say the site was a safety hazard, so they took off the roof and the front of the structure and buried it.

"It was a hazard to people and it was an eyesore," said  Ionia Township Supervisor Larry Listerman "There was no markings and no stones."

According to records on the genealogical website Find A Grave, Clark and his son's death certificates were buried in the vault.   Pictures from 2011 show the grave was clearly labeled by a headstone that sat on the ground leaning against the structure.

Photographs taken by a professional photographer who grew up in Ionia Township show the structure was in fair condition.

The former caretaker of the cemetery, Mark Barna, said its removal is a disgrace.

"Oh there's definitely bodies in there," he said.  "People paid for the lot, the land, and they are there forever.  You can't disturb them unless you get the permits to move."

Under Michigan law, a permit is required to move a deceased person.

According to Barna, the health department has no record of the burial.

When asked how he knew for sure there were no bodies inside, especially when it could be sealed in cement, Listerman responded:

If there were bodies in it, they are in the ground underneath.  If that's a tomb underneath the building, I am not going to break into a tomb, there is no reason to.  If there is bodies in there it's nicely covered up with dirt and seeded and it will be mowed.  I'm not going to disturb them.

Barna says the township had the burial site destroyed "for no good reason."

The township board voted to have the vault taken down last year, and claim Barna has a chip on his shoulder because he was replaced as caretaker of the cemetery.  Barna said he wants to get the authorities involved.