Subway workers dig up paupers' graves

Workers digging a subway extension unearthed the skeletal remains of 108 people that officials believe were buried in the city's original cemetery for the poor.

The discoveries on the grounds of an old brick crematorium in East Los Angeles revealed a forgotten layer of history, stunning Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials and nearby residents.

"I've lived in the same house for 70 years," said Diana Tarango, a longtime Eastside resident. "Even then, growing up as a kid, I never thought of it as a cemetery. It was always a crematorium."

Carbon dating indicates that most of the remains date back to at least the 1890s, said Ray Sosa, the MTA deputy project manager who is planning the subway extension. Burials stopped when the county built a crematorium on the site in 1922 to dispose of the bodies of the poor and unclaimed.

Time obscured the existence of the graves, which - along with old coins, empty coffins, metal objects and even garbage - were found beginning in June under trees, a retaining wall and a driveway.

No records indicated that bodies were buried anywhere along the new subway route, Sosa said.
Only one of the bodies, which was buried with its headstone, has been identified, he said. DNA testing would not identify other remains because they are so old, officials said.

MTA officials, archeologists and community members are working together to figure out where to re-inter the bodies.

"We want to give these people a proper burial, because it's obvious they were not given a proper burial in the first place," said Rick Thorpe, the MTA's head of construction. "If they had been treated with respect, we would have known where they were located."

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