In the northeast Alabama town of Stevenson, longtime resident James Davis, 73, is embroiled in a rather unfortunate legal battle with the city. The reason? In 2009, the carpenter buried his late wife, Patsy Ruth, near the hand-built log home that the couple shared for more than 30 years. And by near the home, I mean Patsy Ruth was laid to rest six-feet-under in a metal casket in
the front yard, right next to the front porch and near the garage. (That's not the offending place of interment pictured up top, but you can view photos here
Although he was just obeying Patsy Ruth’s final wishes, Davis interred his wife in the front yard in defiance of town brass who had rejected his request for a cemetery permit (the county health department did give the in-mourning widower the go-ahead for a residential burial, however). After failing to reach any sort of compromise, the city ended up suing Davis to have Patsy Ruth’s remains relocated to a traditional cemetery (i.e. not his front yard). Earlier this year, a county judge ordered him to do so. However, the judge’s order is currently on hold as the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals determines the final resting place of Patsy Ruth Davis.
Davis tells the Associated Press: “Good Lord, they've raised pigs in their yard, there's horses out the road here in a corral in the city limits, they've got other gravesites here all over the place. And there shouldn't have been a problem."
Well, here’s the problem that Stevenson has with Davis' actions: although residential burials aren’t too uncommon in Alabama — and as the AP points out, the northeast section of the state is a libertarian’s paradise with few zoning laws — Stevenson officials worry that Davis’ actions might spark a wave of residential burials in the more densely populated downtown area. Appearance, neighbor complaints, and decreasing property values as just a few of the concerns voiced by the city. “We're not in the 1800s any longer. We're not talking about a homestead, we're not talking about someone who is out in the country on 40 acres of land. Mr. Davis lives in downtown Stevenson,” argues city attorney Parker Edmiston.
Naturally, not all of Davis' neighbors are too thrilled of headstones popping up in a non-Halloween décor context. Neighbor George W. Westmoreland even got into a physical altercation with Davis over the placement of the grave, but ultimately strong libertarian sentiments dictate his opinion on the matter: “I don't think it's right, but it's not my place to tell him he can't do it,” says Westmoreland.
Davis himself plans to ultimately be entombed next to his wife in the front yard. He maintains that when that happens, his five children and 15 grandchildren will continue to look after the property. Until then, he’ll keep on fighting for Patsy Ruth to stay put. “If they get it done it'll be after I'm gone. So if they order her to be moved, it's a death sentence to me. I'll meet Mama sooner than I planned on it."
An unusual and somewhat heartbreaking case … any thoughts?
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