Weaver’s have been hand-digging graves in the Whitney cemetery since 1889
There has been a Weaver sexton at the Whitney cemetery since it was founded in 1889, and today, David Weaver is still carrying on the tradition that began with his great-grandfather, Gilbert Edward Weaver.
After Gilbert was unable to continue as sexton, the position was given to his son, Gilbert David. After he could no longer continue to dig the graves, the job was then turned over to his son, Marcus.
Marcus worked the cemetery, taking care of over 700 gravesites through the years. In May 1994, Marcus prepared the grave of LDS President Ezra Taft Benson, who had told Marcus to “hang in there and not die,” asking that Marcus be the one to dig his grave site. The last grave dug by Marcus was that of a cousin, Tyra Eichert, 91, in 2005.
Marcus taught his son, David, the art of digging a grave by hand, and maintaining the cemetery with a caring attitude, not only in digging the gravesite, but keeping the entire cemetery a work of pride. David said he takes pride in not only the first shovel of dirt, but to the last leveling and replacing the sod once a burial is complete.
Weaver digs a hole that is five feet deep, eight feet long and 40 inches wide. He said the reason he doesn’t dig the more common six feet deep grave is due to his inability to climb in and out. He said he was curious at how much dirt he was moving from one grave, and he counted the shovelfuls as he worked, coming up with 1,125 in a six-hour period.
Using a 1948 Dodge one-ton dump truck that has been in the family since 1970, David transfers unused dirt to an area east of the graves, where in time it will be leveled and then planted in grass for extending the cemetery. Tools of his trade are a beet fork, a square shovel, a five foot long steel bar and an ax. He uses the ax to break up rocks, tree roots or hard packed earth, the beet fork to pitch the dirt from inside the grave onto the dump truck and the bar to help pry a marker when he has to move it. Along with the bar for prying, Weaver also uses wooden blocks under the marker because of the weight involved. He places two feet of dirt onto the truck for removal, while three feet of dirt is kept on a tarp for fill in purposes.
The tarp makes it possible to protect the surrounding grass and it helps to finish the grave in a neater fashion,” he said.
When asked why he didn’t use a backhoe, Weaver said sometimes the heavy machine damages the grass, or makes ruts in the grass. “I like it because it is neater.” Once the grave services have ended, David fills in the edges, covers it and after smoothing the dirt he replaces the sod.
During the spring, summer and fall months, Weaver is out maintaining the cemetery grounds. He mows with a riding lawn mower and then trims edges with a smaller push-pull power mower. He sets out by hand each individual sprinkler head, monitors the watering and when finished, he removes them.
Weaver explained he couldn’t leave the heads, or they would get run over. During the winter, he rests, knowing when the snow melts and warm weather begins, his work will begin. However, the digging of graves is a year-round job.
The ax, he said, comes in handy chopping up snow or ice. He digs a grave, no matter the weather.
At 61, Weaver said he loves his work. Of the 785 graves within the cemetery, David has dug 76 since Marcus passed away in 2005. “This isn’t just a tradition to me,” said Weaver. “It is the joy of the people who visit here. I love hearing comments about how beautiful everything looks and the thanks they give me. It is the smiles, handshakes and thanks that make it worth the extra care.”
David may be the end of this family tradition, as his only son, Ryan, is pursuing a career in dental care and is unsure if he wants to continue the sexton position.
Story and photos by JEAN CARTER
This story is sponsored by Mullen Crane
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