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For Kate Smith, Death Alone Isn't Grounds for Burial

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When she was alive, Kate Smith had an obsessive fear of being underground. Since her death the singer’s phobia has been respected—but in a way she never expected. A cheerful, Brobdingnagian singer who made God Bless America the unofficial national anthem, Smith died a year ago next week, on June 17, at age 79. But she still hasn’t been buried because of a dispute that has reached tragicomic proportions. At issue is a $90,000 mausoleum commissioned by her executors to keep her above ground. “It’s very dignified and simple,” says Smith’s sister, Helena Steene, 82. “It’s exactly what she wanted.”

There’s a chorus of disagreement on that point. Many of Smith’s friends who’ve seen the design call the 11-foot-high, rose-granite structure a garish monstrosity. “It’s disgusting,” says Father Robert Lamitie, pastor of St. Agnes Catholic Church in Lake Placid, N.Y., where the mausoleum is supposed to be built. “Kathryn wouldn’t want something you could walk into.” The church prefers a smaller structure, an idea the executors term unworthy.

Money may be part of the problem, since an undetermined portion of Smith’s $500,000 estate is earmarked for St. Agnes. Executors say the church would like to keep the $90,000 for itself. Smith’s friends accuse the executors of trying to construct the mausoleum to keep the money out of church hands. Meanwhile the singer’s body remains in a cold-storage vault in Lake Placid. Since redesigning a new structure could take six months, by which time the ground will be too cold to break, another year will probably pass before Kate Smith is finally laid to rest.