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Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Hundreds of unclaimed human cremains to be scattered in upcoming ceremony at Rose Hill Cemetery

County erects headstone, plans to scatter hundreds of unclaimed cremains
Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom
The cremains of about 400 people are stored in boxes in the basement of the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.

Shelved in a dimly lit corner among the labyrinth of county records in the basement of the old Sears department store building, stacks of small white boxes hold the ashes of 400 people.

Some of the cremains, neatly labeled with names and dates of death, have been in the county’s archives for 10, 20 and 30 years.

In the coming weeks, a portion of those boxes of ashes will be scattered during a ceremony in a grassy plot near some park benches just left of the entry gate to Rose Hill Cemetery. A headstone there lists 166 names of deceased people whose families Macon-Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones has tried to contact over the last couple of  years.

Most were unwilling or unable to claim their family member’s cremains. Only seven boxes were claimed and just five of those retrieved.

“People don’t want to claim their loved ones even though they don’t have to pay for the cremation,” Jones said. “It’s always a family squabble. I mean, they just don’t care. I see brothers that haven’t spoken to each other in 30 years. I see sisters that sit on the opposite side of the funeral home.. … I tell people all the time, ‘Bury the hatchet.’”

A headstone just to the left of the entrance to Rose Hill Cemetery marks the grassy plot where Macon-Bibb County plans to scatter hundreds of unclaimed cremains that have accumulated in the county’s archives over decades. (Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom)

The deceased were infants, adults, children and elderly. Causes of death range from congestive heart failure and lung cancer to homicides and accidents. Some of the people were poor or homeless. Some died in hospitals and nursing homes. Others were left behind in storage units or funeral homes. At least four of the urns hold cremains of people not identified.

Jones said he suspects family disconnectedness and guilt are main reasons for the county’s stockpile of unclaimed human remains.

The 166 cremains set to be scattered are ones that had been in storage for more than a year when the county petitioned the court to dispose of them in 2022. Macon-Bibb County spokesperson Chris Floore said getting the headstone took longer than expected.

The rest of the boxes of cremains– about 234 of them – will stay in the basement at the sheriff’s office annex building on Third Street for now. However, the names of those people whose cremains remain in county custody could someday be engraved on the other side of the headstone, a smooth stone featuring six empty columns beneath the John Gaisworthy quote, “Scatter my ashes! Let them be free to the air, soaked in the sunlight and rain.”

The ceremony to honor the 166 people is set for 9:30 a.m. on March 27. After that, Floore said, the county may start the legal process to dispose of the remaining ashes.

For a complete list of names of people whose cremains are in the county’s possession, click here.

Macon-Bibb County installed a headstone near the entrance of Rose Hill Cemetery to honor deceased people whose cremains have for years been unclaimed and stored in county archives. A ceremony to scatter the ashes in a grassy plot by the headstone is set for late March.

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].

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    Amy HughesMar 15, 2024 at 8:16 pm

    Such a shame that families can’t put aside their differences to claim their family members. My late ex husband’s cremains are in my hallway closet. His father refused to claim him after a fall out between them. Although we were divorced, at lease I had the respect to not let him be buried in a pauper’s grave in Gwinnett County. I still get along with my ex’s family and we have agreed that the next time someone passes on that side, my ex will be buried with them. Then he will be with family once again.