Coffins dug up at Philadelphia school grounds

Coffins unearthed

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An unearthed coffin is marked with orange paint behind William Dick Elementary School, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Water Department crews doing excavation work behind the school on Wednesday afternoon unearthed several coffins and headstones. The city Department of Licenses and Inspections and the Historical Society have been called in to figure out how old they are and determine if remains are still present. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Workers digging in back of a Philadelphia elementary school have discovered several wooden coffins, likely from a century-old cemetery, authorities said.

The caskets, along with headstones, were found as workers were preparing to plant grass for a green space at the William Dick Elementary School, authorities said.

A cemetery is believed to have existed on the site years ago, said Mark McDonald, a city spokesman.

Some caskets had been removed in the 1950s, when the school was built, McDonald said, adding: "Apparently they didn't do a thorough job."

The caskets were part of two cemeteries, the Odd Fellows Cemetery and the smaller American Mechanics Cemetery, according to Thomas Keels, an area historian quoted in local media.

The Odd Fellows Cemetery has not been used since about a century ago, Keels was quoted as saying.

The grim discovery was made on Wednesday behind the school, which has about 300 students.

"It's kind of weird to build something over the top of bodies," said neighbor Theresa De Brue, 54.

Work on the grass planting project has stopped, pending an investigation.

"Any time you dig in a very, very old city, you are likely to find things," McDonald said. He did not provide details on what might be done with the remains in the caskets other than to say they would be treated with respect.

(Editing by Gunna Dickson)

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