|City/Town: • Bessemer|
|Location Class: • Cemetery • Commercial|
|Built: • 1992 | Abandoned: • 2009|
|Status: • Restored|
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit|
Memorial Mound was the brainchild of Clyde Booth who used to dig graves as a teenager in Kentucky with his uncle. He witnessed firsthand the neglect that occurred at graveyards, from deteriorating caskets to unkempt grounds. This would lead him to find an alternate burial technique in later years. Booth claimed he began searching for alternative methods of burial after his son died in a hunting accident in Texas in 1968. Booth studied ancient burial sites such as mounds and the catacombs of Rome where the dead were placed in vaults. The fact that the mounds and catacombs still existed today amazed Booth. He came up with what would be known as Memorial Mound in 1976.
While living in Lubbock, Texas, Booth recalled his grandmother’s root cellar where she kept food and came up with the concept of creating a burial site similar to that of the Roman catacombs; an earth-covered mound that acted as an underground version of an above-ground mausoleum.
In 1992, he opened Memorial Mound in Bessemer, Alabama. Built on 16 acres, the foundation rested eight feet below the ground with a steel roof buried in the red Alabama clay. Instead of being buried in the ground as in conventional cemeteries, caskets were placed on metal racks in a vast, warehouse-like room, and stacked up to 10 feet high. Grieving visitors couldn’t enter the room where the caskets were stored but were allowed to lay flowers on the large earthen mound, place a bronze memorial on a marble wall inside the structure or even call up a biography of the deceased on a computer. Another room in the building served as a showroom for Booth’s casket business, Caskets & Memorial Wholesale Co., which sold caskets to the public at wholesale prices.
He advertised the cost of a funeral and burial at Memorial Mound for as low as $2,285, which included a 20ga metal casket, a bronze memorial, and the burial space, as well as the death certificate, obituary, chapel service, and organ music, a registry book and cards, and a limousine for immediate family members. The cost was incredibly affordable considering a funeral in Alabama costs on average around $7,000. Booth planned to expand his funeral business by building other mounds in Irondale and Shelby County.
A Failed Concept
Other funeral homes referred to most of the bodies buried here. Booth claimed it was a conspiracy when they stopped referring to his business, eventually leading to its closure. Since its opening, he believed the funeral business was against his business of buying caskets at wholesale and reselling them at a fraction of the cost. The last internments there occurred in 2002 so it can be assumed that the facility closed around then. Those buried there at the time of its closing include Clara Anderson (1916-1994), Littie M. Lewis (1914-2001), Veronica Lewis (1952-2002), Willie Henry Miller (1928-2002), Paul Norris (1935-1992), Estella Poston (1907-2001), Eddie Mae Roberson (1937-1993), and Jamieral Treshaun Ziegler (1992-1993).
Booth died in 2009 at the age of 89 of a heart attack, leaving his estate in the hands of his guardian. It’s hard to determine how long the facility had been neglected, but pictures of it surfaced on various websites around November 2014. It wasn’t long before the building was ransacked, including a skull that had become missing from one of the bodies. In January 2015, AL.com became aware of the neglectful state of the facility and reported it to the authorities, although other sources claim the Birmingham branch of the FBI was tipped off by an urban explorer that graverobbing was taking place at Memorial Mound who in turn contacted Bessemer authorities.
The remains of 1 infant and 7 adults were removed by the Bessemer Police Department, and the building was secured. Efforts were made to contact family members while the bodies were kept at the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office for protection and any unclaimed bodies were interred at Jefferson County Cemetery near the town of Morris.