Sunday, April 15, 2012

Picking bones with the cemetery

At one of our daily world crisis solving discussions at a local coffee shop recently, it came to my attention that I suddenly have an issue with the Lexington City Cemetery.

If I want to be buried there — and I think I do — my grave site can be identified only by a flush marker if I am placed in the "new" section on land acquired about 10 or 11 years ago to expand the cemetery. By city council policy, I cannot have an upright memorial.

Whaaaaattt? When did this happen?

It happened this way: (See here and here).

OK, so let me get this straight. Upright headstones are no longer permitted in the cemetery because flush markers are easier to mow around and maintain? That's it? That's the reason?

Wait a minute. To my mind — and eye — the Lexington City Cemetery is one of the most attractive burial places I've seen anywhere, in any town. Built on the side of a hill, and dotted with treasured shade trees and 200 years of history, the 20 or so acres are beautifully maintained by a crew of 10 or 12 city employees, who mow and trim every Monday (there's also a 10-acre cemetery in South Lexington the city maintains).

I can only imagine that it is a bear of a job, and probably not cheap to sustain, either. But the cemetery, with its waves and waves of headstones — some of which I think are true works of art — has even found itself included in the National Register of Historic Places. That's awesome.

I always thought my 30-year career as a sportswriter for The Dispatch could be remembered by a marker that had an old Royal typewriter sculpted onto the marble with a verse that goes something like this:

"Here lies Bruce Wehrle
Who toiled day and night
Covering games of our youth —
He got it write"

Well, OK, maybe not.

I know we enter into subjective territory at this point when I say the charming aesthetics of the cemetery ends where the new section of the cemetery begins. To me, it's an awkward transition when the traditional upright memorials suddenly disappear in favor of flush markers. There's a definitive side-by-side difference there that the eye readily discerns, and some continuity of the beauty of the cemetery is lost in that difference, I think.

It goes beyond aesthetics, though, when a tax-paying citizen has no option in the choice of marker he or she prefers on his or her city-maintained grave site. We already have a flush-marker cemetery at Forest Hill, why does the city cemetery have to be one, too?

This can be a touchy and emotional issue for some people. With perhaps 85 to 90 percent of the cemetery still favoring upright memorials, how much is the city really saving with its flush markers? The cemetery is a finite green space with not much room for expansion. Flush markers will never surpass the upright memorials there. So is it really that significant a savings?

I still don't know how I want my remains to be disposed. I may opt for cremation and have my ashes tossed to the winds of Gettysburg, where an ancestor fought. Or I might decide a flush marker plot is fine, after all. Or maybe find a church cemetery somewhere.

I just want to have my choice of marker.

It's been pointed out to me, by a city official in fact, that I should go before city council and ask it to revisit its policy on flush markers only. Times change, and so do administrations.

Maybe that policy can be changed and maybe I'll ask.

Nobody said it was written in stone.

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