Watery graves

MAX A small American flag flutters in the breeze at one edge of an engraved stone marker. Small waves lap at the other side. Ironically perhaps, the memorial marker for Staff Sergeant Vincent Veron reads: “Buried in the North Sea.”

Veron’s death is listed as 1942. His marker lies among those threatened by rising water at the Immaculate Conception cemetery immediately east of Max. Some graves have been exhumed. Others remain beneath the water. Little can be done until the water subsides.

“It’s a mess, isn’t it?” said Dwight Lies, president of the parish of Max’s Immaculate Conception church. “It is flooded and that’s the way it is. We can’t do anything until the water disappears. There’s close to six feet in the corner but, fortunately, nobody is buried down there.”

There are several burial sites in the water though, some with headstones partially visible above the rising water. Other markers have long disappeared from view. The gates to the cemetery remain open, but the road leading through the gates is under water. Reed and cattail growth is everywhere.

Statuary in the cemetery appear to be walking on water.

“My parents and grandparents are on the south side, out of the water,” said Susan Halvorson, a Max resident and member of the church parish board. “There are several graves under the water. Our troubles started in 2011.”

There is a small knoll in the southwest corner of the cemetery where some of the earliest graves are located. One marker is dated 1918. The knoll remains above the water but the ground is soft, indicating the soil has reached the saturation point. Three old iron crosses poke out of the water just inside the cemetery’s west fence.

“Those iron crosses, I guess, are from some of the early people that were buried there,” said Lies. “I don’t know what a guy can do. The church doesn’t have the money.”

Two graves were exhumed and the caskets moved elsewhere in 2011, the year when the slough adjacent to the cemetery first began to expand. Four additional graves were exhumed last November following a dry summer. This year though, the water came up so fast that there was little time for families and loved ones to respond.

“The water was going down and then it came up crazy again,” said Halvorson.

One Max resident called the situation at the

cemetery “terrible,” adding that it was so sad he didn’t know what to say. Relocating any more caskets while the water is high is virtually impossible. The ground is too soggy to support the necessary


“We’ve already got some ruts a foot and a half deep out there,” said Lies. “Some of those old wooden caskets would just fall apart. We’ve got a lot of work to do once that water goes down.”

When the water will recede is anyone’s guess. The region has experienced a record amount of rainfall this year and the vast aquifer beneath the cemetery is believed to be at its highest level in recorded history. Water levels in potholes throughout the area are at all-time highs. Numerous roads are under water too.

“We are trying to find out from the city engineer of Max what can be done,” explained Lies. “We do have an outlet that goes through Max.”

To move the water flooding the cemetery through the outlet, it would first have to be moved north. That route is blocked by Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks. Then the water would have to move west through a culvert underneath U.S. Highway 83, through Max, and once again pass through a set of CP rail tracks south of the community. Even if that task could be accomplished, it is in a region so wet that it’s not likely any place else could take additional water.

“It is a dilemma,” said Halvorson. “And to think last year we mowed most of it.”