After standing for 70 years, the Hopewell Memorial Home began coming down on Saturday, Aug. 10. Over a period of three weeks, the building was methodically deconstructed by a single John Deere 200LC Excavator, a large, tracked, yellow dinosaur-like machine wielding at the end of its hydraulic arm a toothed bucket large enough to hold two or three full-grown humans.
Demolition was supposed to have started in May, but the tenants on the second floor hadn’t found alternate lodging. Perhaps they were reluctant to leave a building that was twice blessed, not only was it their home but also a funeral home. (Ever wonder how anyone came up with the euphemism “home” for an establishment devoted to embalming, cremation, burial and death?)
The destruction process began with remarkable delicacy as the enormous bucket picked off the gutters without disturbing the roof. Then with one swipe, the balcony was pushed over. Next, the roof was removed after which the interior wooden studs, wallboard and flooring were literally peeled away from the masonry walls, all of which was deposited gently into 30 cubic yard dumpsters where the mass was compressed by the bucket.
This whole structural dissection was completed without damaging the brick siding because the plan was to leave the masonry and asphalt for last since that debris had to go to separate recycling destinations or landfills.
When only the bricks and cinderblock chimneys were left standing, it took only taps from the bucket to tip them over and then be scooped up and dropped into 20 cubic yard dumpsters. Watching the two-story chimney go down was a brief but electrifying spectacle bringing to mind World War III or an attack by malevolent extraterrestrials.
When praised for his incredible skill in selectively picking at the building rather than just smashing the whole thing down, the excavator operator, who’d been practicing his trade for 36 years, said that he’d often received such compliments and then added, “If everyone was good at just one thing and didn’t try to be good at everything, the world would be a better place.”
The fact that so much could be accomplished by a single machine led to my checking prices in case I wanted to buy one. A new medium-size Deere Excavator went for $200,000. A used one was listed online for $44,000, but it was probably really beat up. Additionally, a new bucket cost from $7,000 to $10,000. Teeth for the bucket were relatively cheap, but they needed to be replaced annually.
While much of the building’s contents had been pillaged prior to its being torn down, various artifacts turned up including a coffin, a brand new black plastic body-bag, and a make-up kit for cadavers. Could there be practical uses for these leftovers? One member of the demolition team considered converting the casket into a coffee table but doubted that his wife would approve. Might the body-bag be repurposed for hundreds of household uses? And the make-up kit? Perhaps these items were just too specialized for everyday applications.
Surprisingly, during the destruction process, not a single zombie or ghoul showed up, although one of the workers speculated that the butterflies hovering over the site might be spirits of the deceased. Alternatively, their presence might have had something to do with the proximity of my butterfly bushes. The regular appearance of circling turkey vultures was probably no more than the usual component of Hopewell’s sky-scape unless one of those fly-overs was, in fact, Mother Nature’s ceremonial aerial salute to the dearly departed structure.
On the eve of destruction, I attempted to sell seats for the viewing. Defying all expectations, there were few takers even when I knocked down the price for a comfortable lawn chair to no charge. How could anyone not want to watch every moment of a building being transformed from an impressive monument to multiple containers of rubble?
Now that the demolition is over, the question arises as to why this macabre Hopewell landmark was taken down (projected to be replaced by residences)? Despite enticing lines on its website like “compare cremation pricing,” apparently not enough people were dying to keep the funereal establishment going.
However, my theory as to why it closed down and is now reduced to a hole in the ground is that the proprietors got a look at my will which stipulates the following: “Upon my death, friends and relatives are invited to eat my remains. If squeamish hesitancy prevails, I am to be gifted to Rutgers Medical School for study as a scientific model of what can happen to the human body following a life devoted to crankiness, blaspheming and excessive consumption of chocolate ice cream.”
Robin Schore lives in Hopewell Borough.