OPINION: Chris Kelly Opinion: Still digging for cemetery solutions

Jul. 28—Raise your hand if you think you know where Dorothy Rodham is buried.

A couple of weeks ago, I reported that the late mother of former first lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is buried in the Washburn Street Cemetery. Her name is on the headstone alongside her late husband Hugh Rodham's, and most media and research references claim she was laid to rest in West Scranton.

Not so, according to Dominic Graziano, owner of Washburn Street and Abington Hills Cemetery in South Abington Twp. A handful of readers also reached out to correct the record.

"My understanding is she is buried in Chicago," Graziano said. I couldn't confirm that, but Graziano is all but certain Dorothy Rodham's remains are not buried in Scranton.

"The records here are deplorable," he said. (Insert your own "basket of deplorables" jokes here.)

A brief chat with Hillary or a representative from the Clinton Foundation could settle the question, but so far my request for an audience has been ignored. I reached out to the former secretary of state's best pal in Scranton for her help. No response.

Chalk it up as yet another dead end in the quest to resurrect a pair of buried cemeteries laid low by the unredeemed sins of their past owners.

Aside from a rescue cash infusion from the Clinton Foundation — which has a $300 million endowment — solutions are elusive. State Sen. Marty Flynn, D-22, and his staff dug up a dusty Pennsylvania statute passed to police places of eternal rest that fester into perpetual eyesores.

Act 144 of 1923 gives courts authority to order local governments to finance the care and upkeep of neglected burial grounds. A petition signed by at least 25 citizens who live within a 5-mile radius of a decrepit cemetery is the prescribed vehicle for courts to order the government to "cut down, before the 30th day of May and before the 15th day of August of each year, all brush, grass, briars, and weeds growing in such burial ground, and to remove the same, and place such grounds in good order and condition."

Sounds good — if you're a Scranton taxpayer in the market for yet another unfunded obligation. The rest can relax. The next paragraph of the statute sets a limit for expenses: "The cost thereof shall be paid out of the borough or township treasury, but in no case shall the council of any borough or the township commissioners or township expend more than $30 on any one cemetery, in any one year..."

That translates to about $475 in today's money. The average cost of a riding mower built for large properties is $2,450.

"Maybe I can get (the law) amended," Flynn said. "If that doesn't work, we'll try something else. It's a shame that the cemeteries are in such bad shape. We have to fix this."

"This" comprises a casket of "thats." Skeleton crews, scarce equipment and sparse funding are compounded by fresh setbacks almost daily, Graziano told me Tuesday.

"I just got a registered letter from the county (Tax Claim Bureau) about the property taxes on Washburn Street, which haven't been paid in years. The (delinquent) taxes on Washburn Street are $51,000. I don't have $51,000 laying around.

"I barely have the money to keep the cemeteries open. There's no way I can pay these taxes."

Graziano managed the cemeteries for former owner Charles "Chick" Rader, who bought them from his longtime friend and felon, John "Jack" Rogan. The latter was convicted and jailed in 1992 for robbing the cemeteries' trust funds and defrauding customers. He apparently never paid $202,000 in court-ordered restitution.

Rader and Rogan are dead. Graziano said Rader instructed him not to pay the taxes on the properties, which were money pits without restoration of the trust funds. Rader hoped the cemeteries would eventually be sold at sheriff's sale, allowing him to walk away, Graziano said. He took ownership upon Rader's death in 2017 and has been finding hidden sinkholes since.

Along with raiding the trust funds, Rogan scammed families who paid for burial vaults he never bought. Graziano said he is legally and morally obligated to provide them.

"I just spoke to a woman yesterday, who was inquiring about arrangements for her (elderly) mother," Graziano told me Tuesday. "Her mother's not doing well and she called to see what's going on.

"The first thing I noticed in my notes was that this family bought four graves and three vaults from Rogan, and we don't have them. So I'll go out and buy them because it's not their responsibility. The problem is then I don't make any money on the funeral. I'm basically doing funerals for free."

Graziano fears such shocks will continue indefinitely.

"When John Rogan got arrested, the state came in and made a list of all the families he scammed," Graziano said. "It was 38 pages, single-spaced."

Graziano never knows when a victimized family will call expecting him to honor the investment Rogan pocketed. Every new obligation is another nail in the cemeteries' coffins.

"Deplorable" records aside, we know for sure Hugh Rodham is buried in West Scranton. Paul McGloin, renowned city florist and father of former Penn State and NFL quarterback Matt McGloin, has been the volunteer caretaker of Rodham's grave since 1993.

McGloin said he knows many other volunteers who do what they can to help, but agreed that Washburn Street and Abington Hills can't recover without a restoration of the trust fund. The Clinton Foundation could make that happen on the cheap.

"If they threw a couple hundred thousand in, that would do it," McGloin said.

McGloin doesn't know where Dorothy Rodham is buried either, but he does have connections to the Clinton family. He promised to reach out and get back to me.

Thanks, Paul. While you're at it, ask where Dorothy Rodham is buried. I'm dying to put this question to rest.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column suggested Tony Rodham is alive. He died in 2019.

CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, is learning way too much about cemeteries. Read his award-winning blog at timestribuneblogs.com/kelly. Contact the writer:kellysworld@timesshamrock.com;@cjkink on Twitter; Chris Kelly, The Times-Tribune on Facebook.