An old-school gravedigger plies his trade

We take the full Measure of a Man with correspondent Mark Strassmann:

Milbridge, on Maine’s northern coast, is a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” sort of town.

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Everard Hall has dug graves for more than 2,500 residents of Washington County.

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It’s the kind of town where people like Everard Hall still believe in doing things the old-fashioned way … especially, in his line of work.

“I’m just a country boy and a gravedigger,” Hall said. “Everybody likes me in town.  Everybody likes me all around the towns here.  I never had nobody say anything that was bad about my work.”

For the past 49 years, Hall has been perfecting what he considers his craft: digging graves entirely by hand.

And why does he work with a pick and shovel rather than a backhoe? “The families like to have it dug by hand,” he replied. “It’s a much neater job and it’s done right.”

Hall was born and raised in Milbridge. One of 12 children, he left school after eighth grade to earn money for his family. His job was working for a mason who made headstones. But one day he got an unexpected call from the town undertaker:

“He says, ‘The guy that digs graves for me is sick. Can you help me?’  ‘Well,’ I says, ‘sure.’”

He’s never forgotten Vincent and Laura Fernald, the first grave he ever dug, nor any of the others. “I buried all of them up in there, down through the years.”

Down through the years Hall estimates he has dug more than 2,500 graves. And he’s proud of every single one.

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In Milbridge, Me., Everard Hall still believes in doing things the old-fashioned way - and is proud of every one of the 2,500 graves he has dug by hand.

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He keeps photos and obituaries of the people he has buried.

“It’s a gravedigger’s scrapbook,” said Strassmann.

“Yep. Yep. It’s a memorial book, of the memorial of the people that I’ve buried. I’ve buried kids, babies, infants, premature, old people, middle age. I buried a guy one time that was 102. Just the way of life, you know?

“I bury loved ones, strangers, alcoholics, drug addicts, whatever.”

He has dug graves for his own mother and father, a sister, and an aunt.

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Everard Hall at work.

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“Someone said, ‘Well, isn’t that hard for you?’” Hall recalled. “I said, ‘In my heart and soul I knew that they weren’t there.’ It’s your mom and dad, yeah, but still you know where they are -- they’re gone, they’re in a better place.”

Whether it’s for a loved one or a stranger, his approach is the same. Every grave has to be perfect.

He measures out each one -- eight feet by four feet. Then he removes the sod in pieces, like a puzzle, so that he can put it back together exactly the same way.

“You have to start it right for it to end right,” Hall noted. “If you do it wrong at the beginning, it’s gonna look like hell when you get done.” 

Everard will be 72 this year.  But he’s going to keep at it as long as he can. 

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“I was put on Earth to be a gravedigger,” he said. “Digging graves, it’s a God-given talent. Everybody has an occupation that they do perfect.  Mine is grave digging.”

And after a life spent around death, Everard Hall realizes that one day, someone will have to dig his grave.

“I’m hopin’ to do my grave myself,” he said. “But I got plenty of time.  God knows, He’s gonna let me know when it gets ready.”

“Yeah, but you could leave it up to somebody else to dig,” Strassmann said.

“Well, I could, yeah. But I got a plan. I wanna do it the way I want it done.  I don’t want it screwed up. I want it done the way I want it done.”