From left, Lisa Taurasi, Lucy Rodriguez and Luis Barbosa, all of Worcester, Mass., hold protest signs as they stand across the street from Graham Putnam &
From left, Lisa Taurasi, Lucy Rodriguez and Luis Barbosa, all of Worcester, Mass., hold protest signs as they stand across the street from Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester, Mass. on Sunday evening, May 5, 2013. (Betty Jenewin)

On one level, we may all agree that a decent burial is both due the dead and a mark of the humanity of the living.

Carrying a grudge to the grave is one thing; carrying it against someone else to deny a grave is quite another.

But sentimental and humanitarian longings notwithstanding, the political has often overwhelmed social convention about what is the proper way to treat the dead.

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the reunited nation, dominated in Congress by the North, treated the bodies of Union veterans with honor, but cared little for the Confederate dead, whose bodies were half-buried at best, haphazardly spread across the nation on battlefields, farm fields and wooded areas. The South used the issue of their dead to organize resistance to federal authority and to deny meaning to the Union victory.

The body of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, lies in an unmarked grave in Baltimore within a family plot on which a Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore. But it took a couple of interim graves — in locations closely controlled by the federal government — and four years to get there.

The body of Lee Oswald, who assassinated President John F. Kennedy, is buried in a cemetery in Shannon Rose Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth, Texas. His original grave marker was stolen and cemetery workers are reportedly now told not to give directions to his plot.


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The body of Timothy McVeigh, one of the Oklahoma City bombers responsible for killing 168 and injuring more than 800, was cremated, his ashes spread at an undisclosed location. A U.S. veteran, McVeigh would have been denied burial in a veterans cemetery by a special act of Congress that was  signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Against that background, the recent campaign to deny a final resting place to the body of accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev seems less exceptional.

Still, there was something unsettling about the spectacle of the weeklong standoff during which a Worcester funeral director searched in vain for a community willing to take the body.

Protesters picketed the funeral home, effectively raising fear that acceptance of the body would create problems for the host community.

Finally, Worcester Police, who were protecting the funeral home and had appealed to the public for help, announced that "a courageous and compassionate individual' had come forward to make it possible to "properly bury the deceased.'

Indeed.

Anger at the people held responsible for terrorism is understandable.

Dancing on their graves would be undignified.

Denying a grave altogether was a step too far.

"We are not barbarians,' said Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme. "We bury the dead.'