People of Pittsburg: John Knapp
‘We take care of them, they take care of us’
Val Vita | Managing Editor
John Knapp has been burying people for 23 years. However, the caretaker of Mount Olive Cemetery on Quincy Street says he doesn’t want to be buried when he die
Since 1989, Knapp has taken care of the graves, funerals and maintenance of the cemetery, located near the parking lot of Carnie Smith Stadium.
“I do everything that needs to be done,” Knapp said.
He says his job as caretaker involves more than just taking care of the cemetery.
“It can be stressful,” he said. “Dealing with the families crying is hard. Sometimes they don’t want to leave mom… And dealing with children is the hardest part.”
Since a cemetery is a place of grieving, Knapp says he frequently talks to and comforts families. He says he and his trainee, Austin Spregg, have lunch in their office at the cemetery. That way, they can talk to any families who show up.
Knapp says he’s training Spregg to take over once he retires, which might happen in the next year or two. He says he started back in the 80s, although he wasn’t a trainee.
“I stepped right into what they hire me to,” Knapp said.
Today, he tries to teach Spregg everything he knows. Sometimes, though, he prefers to save his trainee from facing difficult times.
“If I had to bury a baby today, I would keep him away,” said Knapp, who is married and has two kids.
Knapp says the frequency of burials varies widely. He says it usually happens about once a month, but it can change.
“That depends on mother nature,” he said. “When I started, we could have two per day.”
“Last year, we had 20 people buried here, so it can change, you know how life is. Everything depends on…” said Knapp, without completing the sentence.
Even if nobody dies, Knapp says he works Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It doesn’t matter if there’s rain, storms or snow, he says.
“But I like it,” Knapp said. “I’ll probably come back to the cemetery when I retire, to see how’s it’s going. I enjoy it. It’s nice when a family comes here and says how nice the cemetery is.”
Knapp, who was born and has spent his entire life in Pittsburg, says he ended up at Mount Olive when a guy he knew told him they needed someone to work at the cemetery. He was working in a coal mine at the time, but he accepted the job. Knapp says he has never been afraid of being around the graves.
“I look at it like this: If we take care of these people, they take care of us,” Knapp said.
Although Knapp is not afraid, he says he believes in the supernatural.
“Do you want to know if there are spooks and ghosts?” Knapp said. “Yes, I believe in spirits. It’s different and everybody believes in what’s different. I’ve had experiences.”
He didn’t elaborate on what those experiences were. But not even “these experiences” cause Knapp to stop enjoying his job. He says if he could have the chance to go back in time, he would choose the same job.
“People don’t realize what goes on at a cemetery,” he said.