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Mourning gave way to the macabre at a New Jersey cemetery where a beloved grandfather’s burial uncovered a moldering bare foot from an adjoining grave.
The devastated family of Cleveland Butler, 85, received a second and unexpected jolt when the body part appeared from the dirt as his blue casket was lowered into the ground at Mount Holiness Memorial Park.
“This was a very traumatizing situation, first dealing with losing my father and then this,” daughter Sandra Butler told the Daily News.
“I couldn’t even look at it. It was too much and no one said anything to us. It was like business as usual for them. They just dumped the dirt in the plot like it was normal, like it’s nothing to them.”
The Butler family patriarch suffered a fatal stroke at a Brooklyn nursing home, and the family assembled last Friday for a brief service at the Robeson and Brown Funeral Home in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Sandra, her brother Alonzo and other mourners then headed west to the Butler, N.J., cemetery where their mother and grandparents are buried.
Cleveland Butler left behind a large family, including four children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
After a graveside eulogy and a few prayers, the scene morphed quickly from silence to Stephen King with the appearance of the foot.
“We all looked down and we were looking at what apparently was a human foot and leg wrapped in plastic, with cloth wrapped around it, sticking out on top of my father’s casket,” said Alonzo Butler, 53, an MTA bus driver.
One of the mourners snapped a cellphone photo of what looks like an outtake from “The Walking Dead.”
Relatives later griped the cemetery workers ignored the dangling foot and quickly filled in the grave.
“They heard it was a leg on the casket and they didn’t even try to investigate it,” Alonzo said.
The bizarre burial also included one worker accidentally dropping a pack of cigarettes and his phone into the open grave, relatives said.
The worker fished both out with a rake before relatives saw the foot in the grave.
“This is beyond heinous for anyone to witness during their time of grieving over a loved one,” said the Rev. Kevin McCall, crisis director with the National Action Network.
He called on New Jersey officials and police to “investigate this despicable act immediately to uncover who is responsible.”
Mount Holiness owner James Shmergel felt that the attention to the ghoulish grave mishap was overblown.
“Is it newsworthy? In a cemetery?” asked Shmergel. “Not really.”
The Butlers may hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit seeking compensation for pain and suffering.
But cemetery caretaker Bill Plog, who started at Mount Holiness in 1983, said he was surprised such incidents were so rare.
“There was a casket,” he said. “It deteriorated. You can purchase a concrete vault, but people don’t. That grave there is from 1969 . . . It’s unfortunate that this happened, but this is a graveyard.”
Plog, 59, said the decision to quickly fill the open grave was just common sense, not a coverup.
“People are grieving,” he explained. “The last thing you want to do is get into an argument with people. Honestly, I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.”
Alonzo Butler first visited the Jersey cemetery for his mother’s burial in September 1995, and returned every year since to visit her on the holidays.
The image of the long-dead limb stays with Butler, and he worries whether the corpse’s family is even aware of the indignity. Only a well-worn piece of plywood covered the grave Thursday.
“We were shocked,” he recalled of the incident. “All we could say was ‘Wow,’ because that was a human, someone else’s loved one. I feel guilty seeing someone else’s family member like that.”
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