Dig it: Indiana man honored for Guinness mark for longest career as gravedigger

GALVESTON, Ind. — Allen McCloskey’s friends and family gathered last week to show much they dug him. That was appropriate since the 89-year-old Indiana resident has been digging for years.

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McCloskey, of Galveston, has been digging graves in his native Cass County since 1952, according to the Pharos-Tribune. He was officially recognized by Guinness World Records as the world record holder for the longest career as a male gravedigger on Nov. 4, 2021, at 68 years, 191 days. The previous record was 68 years, held by Johann Heirich Karl Thieme of Aldenburg, Germany.

That record has been extended to more than 70 years, as McCloskey continues to use the 580CK tractor that he bought in the early 1970s to carve out plots from the Indiana soil.

This month, Dean McCloskey wanted to honor his father, a humble man who has dug more than 5,600 graves across 21 cemeteries. That came after he got Guinness to certify his father’s record-breaking career.

“It just kind of popped into my head, this crazy idea,” the younger McCloskey told the Pharos-Tribune. “I just wanted to do something to give back to the man who has provided so much for me and my brother and sister and the rest of our family for so many years and that he has given back to the entire community. It was just a way that I wanted to recognize him for doing so much for so many.”

Allen McCloskey, who turns 90 on Oct. 27, was led to believe he was going to the Center United Methodist Church to celebrate the birthday of his friend Chris Weaver, the funeral director at Murray-Weaver Funeral Home, according to the newspaper.

Instead, the celebration was for the longtime gravedigger.

In Cass County, Allen McCloskey knows where everyone is buried.

He dug his first grave on Aug. 28, 1952, according to the Pharos-Tribune. That was for a man named Joe Williamson, who was buried at what was then known as Center Cemetery in Young America.

According to the Kokomo Tribune, Williamson, 54, was a state building and loan examiner and the former president of the First Savings and Loan Association of Logansport.

Dick Hyman was the man who gave Allen McCloskey his first gravedigging job, according to the Pharos-Tribune.

That was McCloskey’s start. He dug graves by hand for five years before buying a backhoe, the Pharos-Tribune reported.

He dug his 100th grave in 1962, and averaged 1,000 graves every nine years, according to the newspaper. He dug his 4,000th grave in 2002 and topped 5,000 in 2013.

“(He’s) one of the most humble fellows I know, would do anything in the world to help anyone and he’s the best grave digger in North Central Indiana,” Weaver, who has known McCloskey for 37 years, told the Pharos-Tribune.

David Allen McCloskey was born Oct. 27, 1933, in Deer Creek, according to his official Indiana state birth certificate. He was the oldest child of Oscar D. McCloskey, a farmer, and Mary Iona Peter McCloskey, who was listed as a housewife.

He married Barbara May Beckhom on Feb. 19, 1966, at the Center church, and they were married for 51 years.

One of the difficult tasks of being a gravedigger is digging the plots for family members. He dug one for his father, who died on March 22, 1985, and his mother, who died on June 26, 2006.

And then there was the plot for his wife, who died on Oct. 11, 2017, and is buried at Galveston Cemetery.

His children helped out.

“Dad has always been a very caring person and a very emotional person,” Dean McCloskey told the Pharos-Tribune. “That was a rough day. When we dug mom’s grave that was probably the hardest thing we’ve ever done. That’s not something I would wish on anyone.”

To get his father verified for Guinness, Dean McCloskey compiled documents and sent it to the agency in 2020, according to the newspaper. It was rejected for “insufficient evidence,” he said.

Guinness officials wanted contracts, but Allen McCloskey conducted most of his business with a handshake.

Dean McCloskey submitted witness statements from people who worked with his father or could corroborate his efforts. Seven were sent to Guinness. and 39 documents were sent to the agency as evidence.

Those documents were on display during the ceremony for Allen McCloskey.

“My grandfather is the hardest working person I’ve ever met,” Sydney Sofronici, of Philadelphia, told the Pharos-Tribune. “I think like my Uncle Dean said, we gather to mourn but we don’t get to gather for many celebrations. But that we got to gather to celebrate him means a lot to me.”

“I talk to people all the time and I tell them how hard of a worker my dad is,” McCloskey’s daughter, Judy McCloskey, told the newspaper. “The things he does for people, he doesn’t expect anything in return. He just does it because that’s the kind of guy he is and that is the kind of person I want to be and I want my kids to be.”

The family believes Allen McCloskey’s record will stand for a long time.

“No 18-year-old is going to say ‘I want to break that record’ and live to be 90 and be in as good of health as my dad is in to do it,” Judy McCloskey told the Pharos-Tribune.

As for Allen McCloskey, he appreciated the fuss but was getting emotional.

“I feel like it’s time to go home,” he told the newspaper with a smile.

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