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Reporter sets out to write 130,000 obituaries


HILLSIDE, N.J. -- In the shadows of the Gypsy headstones of the Evergreenn Cemetery, along the winding carriage paths that lead to the section for the aged women and orphaned children, the Civil War soldiers and the grave of the author Stephen Crane, a white-haired woman roams the graveyard, as she has for 13 years.

"I never thought I'd be doing this," said Jean-Rae Turner of Newark, rolling through the 115-acre graveyard in her blue Chevy Nova. But, as she once told a librarian, "I keep digging up more interesting people."

0 Historians praise her expeditions. Thanks to

her years of painstaking documentation of the 300-year-old towering trees, the cemetery's stylish monuments and famous permanent residents, the 138-year-old Evergreen Cemetery will be dedicated on Oct. 27 as a national historic site.

The commissioners, the cemetery trustees and the consulting historians are sighing with relief that the application process is over. But Turner, 69, who worked for 34 years as a tenacious reporter for The Elizabeth Daily Journal, can't close her notebooks. In the garden of rocks she sees a gold mine of personalities waiting to be discovered. In her quest to know who's there, she shames any journalist who has ever complained about writing

an obituary. She's setting out to write 130,000 of them.

In the past 15 years, her trips through the cemetery have led to two books on local history, as well as a column called "Once Upon a Time" for a local weekly paper, The Citizen. And, oh yes, the position of unofficial graveyard chronicler.

It's frustrating work. Usually her only clues to a person's lifetime are a name, a date, and maybe a motto. But mysteries intrigue her. And she plans to leave behind her own. When asked what her epitaph at the Evergreen would say, her eyes burned with pleasure at the though of posthumous revenge. "Nothing," she said with a smile.

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