0

Local gravedigger has buried thousands

Greg Gelpi

The classic scene for a horror movie involves a foggy cemetery in the middle of the night to instill fear and uneasiness, but handling dead bodies doesn't scare Ralph Price.

Price has worked as a gravedigger for 35 years, burying thousands of bodies in that time.

"I ain't ever got scared, but one time," he said.

Standing in a pit with water covering his boots, he shoveled buckets of water out of a grave plot that collected overnight. Moments later the gravestone fell into the pit. The gravedigger nearly dug his own grave, but had climbed out of the hole minutes earlier.

On another occasion, Price encountered what he thought was the supernatural as a body appeared to come back to life.

Gathering the body parts from a wooden casket that collapsed, he noticed something moving, he said, recalling his biggest fright. The corpse's ribs moved several times.

Scared at the thought of a dead body coming to life, he realized with relief that a silk string from the man's suit tugged at the body's rib cage each time he moved the casket.

The only scary things in a cemetery are purely natural, the 63-year-old Morrow resident said.

"The gravedigger's biggest nightmare is rock," Price said. "We used to shoot dynamite, but not anymore."

Growing comfortable with digging graves and exhuming bodies, the smell of human flesh is the most haunting experience of his job.

"If you ever smell a human body, you'll never forget it," Price said. "It's a sweet sickening smell."

Joining his brother Cecil Price for his first years of digging graves, he has experienced everything from fights between a widow and a girlfriend and the burial of an outlaw motorcycle gang member featuring about 250 bikers bidding farewell with guns blazing.

Of all his experiences, though, there is one thing he can't stand.

"I tell you what gets me more than anything is burying kids," Price said.

Working around the clock, the gravedigger works in cemeteries seven days a week, including Halloween, for eight funeral homes.