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By: Karla Werkman, City of Hamilton Code Enforcement Officer
My parents are buried at Oakwood Cemetery, as are my grandparents. Like so many Hamilton residents who have loved ones interred at Oakwood, I care about its appearance.
By ordinance, the City of Hamilton “shall provide for the continuing care, maintenance, operation and improvements to the cemetery.” The City has been struggling this year to meet that standard of care.
In the past, Gatesville prisoners would come to town throughout the summer months to mow and edge at Oakwood. In return, the City would buy their lunch. It was a sweet deal for both parties. Due to COVID-19, Gatesville prisoners have been unavailable this year. This has added Oakwood maintenance back to the long list of tasks already assigned to a very small Parks Department staff.
The good news is that Oakwood was mowed just last week. The bad news is that the cemetery still looks un-kept, largely due to the proliferation of artifacts being left upon the graves. Over time, the wreaths, artificial flowers, animal statuettes and personal mementos left so lovingly to commemorate a lost life fade, fall over, or break, resulting in clutter that is making Oakwood an eyesore. The clutter also increases the difficulty of maintaining the cemetery, as each plot presents its own unique challenge for mowing and edging.
There are city ordinances already in place regarding “Placement of Objects in the Cemetery”. The problem is that very few people are aware of these rules. So, here’s a summary of Sections 17-36 through 17-39: No objects of any kind shall be placed on graves except as specifically provided within this section. Fresh flowers, artificial flowers, floral pieces and funeral designs are permitted but must be removed when unsightly or wilted. All flowers must be placed on or next to the monument or at the head of the grave. No benches, settees or chairs are permitted unless a 4-inch pad of concrete, granite or similar material is installed. No planting of shrubs, trees, or any other type of vegetation without consent of the city. No construction of any kind, such as curbing, fencing, coping, trellises or enclosure of any kind. No rocks, mulch, gravel, or covering of any other kind is permitted on or around any cemetery lot or space. All foot markers shall be placed at or below ground level. Permanent bronze, granite, or marble vases and/or urns may be placed upon cemetery spaces provided they are attached to the sides or tops of permanent markers.
What? No rocks or gravel on graves? While it seems like a great idea for long-term low maintenance, in reality, dust and dirt blow onto the gravel, spores and seeds follow, and soon weeds and grass are sprouting throughout the rocks. According to those who have spent a lifetime maintaining Oakwood, this is even harder to maintain than grass would have been.
I was with my parents when they bought their plots, and I know that we weren’t made aware of these do’s and don’ts. To remedy this, the city is now providing an information sheet along with the deed whenever a plot is purchased.
To get Oakwood back in shape and to keep it that way, the city is implementing Cemetery Clean-Up Days twice a year, so you’ll want to remember these dates. Every year, on the last Friday in April and the last Friday in August (just remember the “A” months!), city employees will go through Oakwood and remove everything from the graves (except for still-fresh live flowers on very recent graves.) There will be no judgments made; everything except the permanent monuments and markers will be removed and discarded. If there is anything that a friend or relative wants to keep, it should be retrieved prior to those two Fridays. This will give Oakwood a twice-a-year face-lift and, hopefully, create an environment in which everyone can take pride.