Woman finds herself hip-deep after ground caves in at cemetery

A misadventure with a dog leash lands Kenai woman one foot in grave

Posted: Thursday, June 03, 2004

KENAI - Hazel Felton did not have a near-death experience over the weekend, but she did have one foot in the grave - literally.

Felton was cleaning up around family graves Sunday at Kenai Cemetery when her dog Boo Boo's leash became entangled in a wooden cross beside a nearby headstone. When she stepped onto the grave to get a better angle to free the terrier's leash, the ground collapsed under her foot.

"I put one leg in past my hip bone. That's about 34 inches," Felton said.

Planting her foot nearly a yard deep in an old grave understandably disturbed Felton, and she got herself out fast.

"I just shot outta there like a light," she said. "It just creeped me out."

Equally creepy for Felton is the fact she was named after the daughter of the man whose grave she fell into. Warder Showalter's daughter Hazel, who died shortly before Felton was born, was a good friend of Felton's mother.

Felton, who was uninjured in the mishap, called the Showalter family to let them know what happened. After hearing the story, Adeline Chaffin found humor in the incident.

"I ask Hazel, 'Were you playing footsie with my dad?"' Chaffin said.

Chaffin and her husband were concerned someone else might fall into the grave, so the couple went out to the cemetery the next day to see the hole for themselves and put up some safety measures.

Chaffin, whose father was buried in the cemetery in 1983, saw no reason to get upset over the incident.

"It's just one of those things that happens in life," she said.

Bob Frates, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, which maintains the cemetery, has never had a grave collapse before. His department routinely compacts the earth over a new grave and allows it time to settle before adding more soil and compacting again, if necessary.

Frates speculated the delayed settling of the Showalter plot may have been due to a wood coffin that held out far longer than usual before collapsing. Whatever settling is going to occur usually occurs within the first year, he said.

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