Ray Malinowski has lived with dead people for nearly four years. The time finally came for him to do something about it.
Malinowski, 63, shares his horse ranch in Simpson County with a 120-year-old cemetery where many of the land’s previous inhabitants are buried. Unfortunately, some of the property’s previous owners cared little for the memorial – they even let their cows sleep there.
“The cemetery was in terrible condition when I moved here,” said Malinowski, who has been working for several months to clear the graves of debris and to return headstones to the proper positions.
“The briars and leaves were nearly as tall as me,” Malinowski said. “I figured I should show these people the proper respect.”
With the brush cleared, but with many headstones still out of place or simply missing, Malinowski’s next step was to call in the experts.
On Thursday morning, Malinowski brought radar specialists from Taylor’s Structural Imaging in Franklin to survey the site and to determine how many people are buried in the cemetery after all.
Storie Taylor Quast and Cody Chastain visited Malinowski’s ranch to use a machine called a ground penetrating radar. Usually used for locating wires and pipes under concrete, the radar is a four-wheeled cart that shoots pulses of energy into the soil to measure changes in density.
“The radar lets us do 95 percent of the work while on site,” Quast said. “We can’t actually see who’s below the surface, but we can see where they are.”
While designed for concrete work, the ground penetrating radar has been used in missing person investigations as well as in cemeteries from Nashville to Indiana.
Quast and Chastain spent nearly three hours at Malinowski’s cemetery, finding numerous buried headstones and the bodies that go with them.
“Some people think we’re disturbing the land by doing this,” Chastain said. “No damage is done, though. It’s more about helping people and giving closure if we can.”
Quast and Chastain were able to confirm that 25 bodies were buried at the private cemetery and they discovered eight buried headstones, many of them belonging to the Lewis family, who appear to have lived in the area in the late 1800s.
“I thought it was pretty fun, actually,” Malinowski said. “Not many people have the chance to see underground like we did, even if it was just lines” on a monitor.
While Malinowski was happy to have the land surveyed, he admits he had an ulterior motive in beginning the project.
“Well, I wanted to fix up the land for these guys first,” Malinowski said. “But I want to get buried out here too, someday.”
Malinowski plans to preserve the cemetery by placing the headstones face up on the ground and lining the sides of the graves with concrete. From there, he hopes to have his very own mausoleum built next to the cemetery.
“People write on mausoleums all the time and what’s great about that is I can make it say whatever I want,” Malinowski said, laughing. “I’m thinking about putting ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ along the side of it.”
After living in Michigan and Indiana for most of his life, Malinowski stumbled upon this tract of land between Franklin and Scottsville and quickly fell in love with it.
Looking out over his 120 acres, it’s easy to figure out why.
“It’s just about perfect here,” Malinowski said, glancing across the hills stretching into the distance. “I wish I’d been born here.”