The tender mercies of our people . . . .

“Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.”  That is a quote by Sir William Ewart Gladstone, the 4-term Prime Minister of 19th century England.

That quote is seared in my soul as it it was placed in a prominent place in our funeral home during my growing up years.  I believed it. . . and I tried to live by it during my 33 years as an active funeral director.

It came to mind today as I read this article about the volunteer work of two Hartford, Connecticut police officers and brothers.  Brothers Anthony and Mike Rykowski had been among those on the exhumation detail on October 7 at a Connecticut cemetery that disinterred the remains of two unknowns from the Hartford circus fire of 1944.

That terrible circus fire, of which you can read about here, killed 168 people and six people were never identified.  Those six people were buried in Northwoods Cemetery on the Hartford-Windsor line four days after the fire.  The graves were marked with coroner ID numbers and the disinterment on October 7 dealt with Victims #2019 and #4512.  Those two victims were exhumed on that date in an attempt to use current DNA technology to determine their identities.

So, where do the Rykowski brothers fit into this event?  Turns out that the Rykowski brothers went to Home Depot, purchased materials with their own money, and then painstakingly, built two matching caskets for the victims to be re-interred in following the DNA extraction.  And, with the police department chaplain and about 12 other witnesses carried out this reburial.

Anthony Rykowski commented, “We pulled these people out of their final resting place. . . We feel like we owe it to them to put them back.”

His brother, Mike, added, “It’s only right to put them back properly. . . . It’s a privilege.”

So, as a funeral director who always tried to do my best for mankind. . . here’s a tip of the hat to the Rykowski brothers for their dedication to high ideals.  You are the epitome of hard working Americans who understand the high ideals that we should live by.  Thank you.

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