BACK IN THE DAY

A burial refused

By KELLY SULLIVAN
Posted 9/16/20

By KELLY SULLIVAN Twenty-one-year-old Blazis Juszkewicz arrived in New York from Russia on April 30, 1902. He had crossed the ocean upon the vessel The Kaiser Wilhelm and went on to Providence, where he found work as a day laborer. The blue-eyed

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BACK IN THE DAY

A burial refused

Posted

Twenty-one-year-old Blazis Juszkewicz arrived in New York from Russia on April 30, 1902. He had crossed the ocean upon the vessel The Kaiser Wilhelm and went on to Providence, where he found work as a day laborer.

The blue-eyed brunette, standing at 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighing 160 pounds, met and married Wincenta Lieszynski, who was in America visiting her brother, on Nov. 14, 1908.

The couple settled into a home on Wayne Street in Providence and Wincenta gave birth to several children. One child died in infancy and, amid the parents’ grief, they found themselves in the center of a legal battle preventing them from burying the child.

Blazis and Wincenta had joined the Lithuanian Catholic Church in Providence. On June 12, 1909, the church had purchased land in Johnston’s village of Manton with the intention of using it as a burial ground for their deceased members. It was there that Blazis desired to commit his baby, who died on March 22, 1910, to eternal rest.

The Johnston Town Council, however, refused to issue Blazis a burial permit for the child. While the church had officially consecrated the property as a cemetery on July 18, 1909, the Town Council stated in court that they had not been aware that this was the intention of the church when they purchased the land. Even the deed did not specify that the land was being bought to be utilized as a cemetery.

As the Town Council had a legal right to prohibit burials in any part of town that was thickly populated, for health and sanitation reasons, they had passed an ordinance on Aug. 13, 1909, forbidding the establishment of any cemetery or burial outside of the already-established Manton Cemetery or Kelley Cemetery, without a special permit. Anyone burying a body without such a permit would be fined up to $20, imprisoned for up to 10 days, or both.

In addition, on Jan. 14, 1910, the Town Council passed an ordinance specifically prohibiting bodies from being buried on the area of land purchased by the church in that town.

When the burial permit was denied, Blazis sued the town of Johnston. He lost his case. While no records have been located to determine where the child was eventually buried, Blazis was buried in Saint Francis Cemetery in Providence after his own death in 1939.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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