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Neil Klien


There are at least two earlier entries devoted to the short life of Neil Klien, the Sexton at Agincourt’s non-sectarian burial ground, The Shades. Notice I don’t say “short and sad”, because I didn’t know Neil, though when I heard his story it seemed his ration of happiness might have been cut as short as his life had been: grave digging and grounds maintenance are solitary work and, even when in the company of others, they are unlikely topics of polite conversation—prurient interests being a slight part of local character. Like the chance opening of a time capsule you didn’t realize was there, Nature gave us accidental insight to Neil’s life.


Strong winds from a passing storm took out several mature trees not already decimated by “Dutch elm” or Japanese beetles. And one of those upturned sentinels disturbed some nearby tombstones, revealing what were thought to be mason’s marks. On closer inspection, however, they proved to be pithy observations about the deceased, handwritten in red lead. This accidental discovery began a scavenger hunt by a few citizens for others—all of which date before Klien’s death. Informally collected, someone has suggested putting them in book form—until, that is, the subject of liability is invoked; Klein’s level of snark spared few of his inmates. Happily he has passed beyond the reach of the law, and a kind of justice has already been served.

Without naming the recipients, here are a few to whet the appetite:


destroyed a garage and three garden sheds;

broke dozens of windows, but nary one heart,

for his had stopped and she had none.

Shades of Edgar Lee Masters! Or this riff on the Latin “R.I.P. / Requiescat In Pace”:

Roast In Purgatory (on the grave of a once prominent attorney)

Or this from the black granite tombstone of a banker:

Harder than the Banker’s heart [and just as cold]

Klien was marginally softer on a local “would-be” author:

Her life was an open book but a short story.

Or this, about a person I’d like to meet:

You sacrificed a friendship to save one.

The reason we know these were Klien’s work? Beneath the stone that marks his adoptive parents’ graves—a stone he was able to afford only by moonlighting other jobs—he wrote in careful uncial letters:

Love never dies.

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