Alabama man fights for the right to bury his wife in front yard
“Let Patsy Rest in Peace,” says a sign hanging near the gravesite.
James Davis, 73, is being sued by the Stevenson City Council to disinter his wife and move the body elsewhere. Family burial plots are common in Alabama, but city officials told the Associated Press they are concerned about setting a precedent by allowing one man to keep his wife buried in his front yard.
“Good Lord, they’ve raised pigs in their yard, there’s horses out the road here in a corral in the city limits, they’ve got other gravesites here all over the place,” Davis told AP. “And there shouldn’t have been a problem.”
The man’s neighborhood lies in an area with a high proportion of libertarians and few zoning laws to control what residents do with their property.
“[My wife] said this is where she wanted to be and could she be put here, and I told her, ‘Yeah,’” Davis said. “I didn’t think there’d be any problem.”
But after Patsy Davis passed away, the City Council rejected Davis’ request for a cemetery permit in his front yard – even though the county health department approved it.
Davis lives on the town’s main road, which made city officials weary of granting a cemetery permit. They also cited concerns about long-term care of the gravesite, appearance, property values and neighbor complaints.
“We’re not in the 1800s any longer,” city attorney Parker Edminston told AP. “We’re not talking about a homestead, we’re not talking about someone who is out in the country on 40 acres of land. Mr. Davis lives in downtown Stevenson.”
Stevenson, a quiet population 2,600 town, is home to so few people that many residents have stopped locking their doors at night.
Determined not to let anyone move his wife’s coffin, Davis has appealed the council’s decision. The appeals court is still deciding what constitutes a “family burial plot” and what constitutes a cemetery. The state is not allowed to regulate family burial plots, so defining Davis’ gravesite could impact the verdict.
While he waits on the appeal court’s ruling, Davis continues to decorate the grave with artificial flowers and carefully washes dirt off the gravestone every time it rains.
Remembering Patsy, whom he was married to for 48 years, Davis holds prayer vigils around the grave for his family every Christmas.
Davis plans to be buried in the front yard beside his wife in the future, but refuses to let her body be moved by the state until then.
“If they get it done it’ll be after I’m gone,” said Davis. “So if they order her to be moved, it’s a death sentence to me. I’ll meet Mama sooner than I planned on it.”