(Reuters) - A Connecticut town got an unexpected history lesson after fierce winds from monster storm Sandy toppled a 103-year-old oak tree and exposed skeletal remains below it, officials said on Wednesday.
The remains likely belonged to a victim of yellow fever or smallpox who might have been buried on the New Haven town green between 1799 and 1821, police spokesman David Hartman said.
Headstones for those buried below the green were moved to a local cemetery in 1821, but the bodies of potentially thousands of residents were never relocated, he said.
This week’s storm brought 40 to 70 mile per hour winds to New Haven, knocking out power, downing trees and causing some flooding to properties, Hartman said.
Sandy’s force overturned a well-known oak that was planted on the town green in 1909 in honor of the 100th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth. A passerby looking at the fallen oak on Tuesday spotted human bones in its roots and alerted authorities, Hartman said.
News of the discovery drew a crowd to the green, where people offered historical information and wild theories about the origins of the skeleton, he said.
“It was a great deal of fun, with no disrespect intended to the dead of course,” Hartman said. “It was good Halloween stuff.”
A death investigator from the medical examiner’s office and a research associate from Yale University’s Department of Anthropology are collecting the remains. The city is discussing how to properly bury them after they are studied, Hartman said.
Given the likely history of the skeleton, no criminal investigation is planned, he said.
Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman