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City to enforce ordinance at Cedar Hill Cemetery

Published 11:09 am Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Flowers and other items improperly placed on graves, and illegal fences installed around cemetery plots in violation of a city ordinance are creating problems at Vicksburg’s 177-year-old Cedar Hill Cemetery on Sky Farm Road that could threaten its character, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Monday.

“I’ve read the cemetery ordinance, and it seems like we’ve got a good ordinance. The problem is lack of enforcement,” Flaggs told Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson and several funeral home directors at a Monday morning work session.

“The problem is, (if the ordinance is not enforced) we’re going to lose the integrity of our beautiful cemetery,” he said.

Flaggs instructed Mayfield, city sexton Venable Moore and landscape director Jeff Richardson to examine the problems at the cemetery and prepare recommendations for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. He said the board would review the ordinance with City Attorney Nancy Thomas, consider possible amendments to strengthen it and report on those proposed changes at an Aug. 13 work session.

Flaggs, whose parents are buried at Cedar Hill, said he toured the cemetery and several other cemeteries in Vicksburg and Jackson for comparisons. The other cemeteries, he said, had a sense of order that did not seem present at Cedar Hill.

Amended in 2006, the city’s cemetery ordinance sets the rules and regulations for its use, requiring approval by the city sexton, or cemetery manager, before markers, monuments or any kind of marble or brick work can be done and getting the sexton’s approval before placing a marker on a burial plot.

The ordinance prohibits planting trees in the cemetery and installing fences or walls around a plot. It also requires new vaults for caskets to be covered with dirt.

But Flaggs said the city has failed to adequately enforce the code, allowing people to put unauthorized fences around cemetery plots lay flowers and other mementos on graves instead of putting them in vases or other receptacles.

Moore said that since the ordinance was amended, an undetermined number of fences have been put around plots in the cemetery without his knowledge.

“They do it when I’m not there — after hours and on the weekends,” he said.

“People put flowers and stuff around a grave that are not in a vase and just sit in the ground,” said Richardson, whose department is responsible for maintaining the grounds. “It’s hard to cut grass around those. When they fall over, we pick them up and throw them away. When they’re in a vase, we leave them alone,” he said

Richardson said workers do not touch the vases because they are considered private property.

“We don’t touch the monuments,” he said. “We’re not allowed to touch the fences or monuments.”

It has only been in the past few years, he said, that city officials allowed workers to take the loose flowers off the graves. “We do it about three or four times a year,” he said.

Mayfield, who represents the North Ward, said markers at the cemetery at one time had brass vases to hold flowers. “They stayed in place longer,” he said, adding people later began using vases made of fiberglass, ceramic and plastic, which did not hold up as long and broke when struck by a line from a grass trimmer, scattering the flowers.

He said he and Richardson went to the cemetery two months ago and found shredded flowers and other items scattered across cemetery.

“It was one of the worst scenes I’ve ever come across over there,” he said.

“They’re affecting the aesthetics of the cemetery,” Mayfield said. “It’s something we’re going to have to address.”

The grass trimmers are not the only problem. Turkey vultures, which roost in the trees bordering the cemetery during the day from the fall until early spring are known to land near graves and shred silk flowers, ribbons and other items that may look like a meal from a high altitude. Cemetery officials are unable to shoot the large birds, which are a federally protected species, and must use noisemakers to periodically scare them off.

The board needs to make a decision on the cemetery code Flaggs said.

“We’re down to either we’re going to enforce the ordinance or not,” he said. “Are we going to give the cemetery director and those in charge of the cemetery the authority (to enforce it) or not.

“I don’t want to be hard, but I was elected to enforce the law,” he said.

“There has to be changes,” Mayfield said.

Cedar Hill occupies 155 acres fronting Sky Farm Avenue. It was initially plotted in 1837, 12 years after the city was incorporated. It is divided by Lovers Lane, with 111 acres of it on the east side of the street.

The cemetery is divided into sections, called divisions, and is the final resting place for black and white residents, and 5,000 Confederate soldiers in Soldiers’ Rest. The number of people buried at Cedar Hill is estimated at between 20,000 and 25,000, though no exact figures can be found.

The city recently received a $30,000 endowment for Cedar Hill.