Alabama Man Fights to Keep Wife Buried in Front Yard

James Davis is embroiled in a legal battle to keep his late wife buried in the grave he dug for her in the front yard of his home.

Davis said he was abiding by his wife’s, Patsy Ruth Davis, wishes when he buried her outside their home in 2009, but the city sued to have the body moved to a new location. A county judge ruled against Davis, but the ruling is on hold as the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals considers his challenge.

“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 grave sites here all over the place,” said Davis. “And there shouldn’t have been a problem.”

While family burial plots aren’t uncommon in Alabama, city officials say they are worried about the precedent that would be set by allowing a grave on a residential lot on one of the town’s main streets. They have also cited concerns over long-term care, appearance, property values and the complaints of some neighbors.

“We’re not in the 1800s any longer,” said city attorney Parker Edmiston. “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.”

Alabama has relatively few zoning laws to govern what people do with their property and even some who disagree with the grave site are against telling a homeowner what they can do with their property.

“I don’t think it’s right, but it’s not my place to tell him he can’t do it,” said George W. Westmoreland, 79, who served three tours of duty in Vietnam. “I laid my life on the line so he would have the right to do this. This is what freedom is about.”

It’s unclear when the appeals court might rule but the decision could come down to whether the judges believe the front-yard grave constitutes a family plot that requires no approval or a cemetery, which would.

Davis has protested by running for City Council. A campaign sign hangs near a bigger sign in his yard that says: “Let Patsy Rest in Peace.” He visits his wife’s grave each time he walks out the front door putting artificial flowers on it regularly, and he washes off the marker when raindrops splatter dirt on the gray stone. At Christmas, he said, he and other relatives hold a little prayer vigil around the grave.

Davis said his five children will bury him in the yard beside Patsy after he dies, and they and his 15 grandchildren will care for the property from then on.

“That’s my perpetual care,” said Davis, referring to the city’s worry about what the grave will look like after he dies.

Davis is adamant that he won’t move the body, regardless of what any court says.

“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.”


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