For some, the grave of a departed loved one is out of sight and out of mind. Though they may remember the person fondly, they don’t feel the need to make regular visits to the cemetery to stand over the earth and look at the stone.
For others, the site becomes a shrine. They visit every Sunday and decorate the stone with religious symbols, lights, flowers and items the person enjoyed in life (including the occasional beer can).
It was members of the latter group at the Blue Mountain Cemetery who were most upset when, several months ago, they found many of the items they’d placed on the graves removed, replaced with letters explaining the rules.
“This is hallowed ground and you have to tread carefully,” said Joe Puma, whose mother is buried in the cemetery.
It appears the removal of items was, for the most part, in keeping with cemetery rules which hadn’t been enforced. Puma said the items were removed by the cemetery board’s secretary-treasurer, Teresa Bach-Tucker. She and her husband were at the cemetery in October, removing decorations, lights and benches from cemetery plots.
Bach-Tucker declined to comment, saying that as a paid board member she could not speak on cemetery issues without the permission of the board president.
Cemetery board president Sonny Solitto said he was ill during the first few weeks in October, and was not aware that Bach-Tucker intended to remove items from the graves herself. “I have been taking criticism for this as the board president, but I would not have done it this way,” he said. “The secretary will have to work out a solution; it is her problem.”
He also said some items, such as lights, were not prohibited, and he promised to have them returned to their owners to place on the graves. However, he said, they would have to be behind the stones, and should be placed so as not to interfere with maintenance of the grounds. “Our groundskeepers would have a difficult job moving lights out of the way when they mow,” he said, adding that lights can be placed to avoid this problem.
Had he been able to meet with the board before Bach-Tucker took her action, he would have supported a gentler approach, and a more careful evaluation of which decorations really needed to be removed. However, he said, “I would still have been one vote, and if a majority had supported the treasurer, I would have been outvoted.”
All the removed items were stored in plastic bags, and they would be returned, Solitto said. “Their stuff wasn’t thrown away.”
The removed items were stored in a shed on the cemetery property, Puma said, and the shed was locked. Apparently someone had changed the lock, as caretaker Steve Bogard had to cut the lock away to get to his equipment, according to Puma.
Puma wrote a letter-to-the-editor drawing attention to the issue and asking fellow plot-holders to express their displeasure. “I’ve had so many calls,” he said. He understands the need for rules, Puma said, but there must be better ways to inform people than to post letters on their relatives’ stones.
The problem may stem from internal board politics, Puma said. “I understand politics, but this isn’t over until we have met and we and the board have worked out our differences.”
In the meantime, Puma has been in contact with the state cemetery board. He has also asked the board for copies of its policies, regulations and election practices.
“We are behind Mr. Puma,” said Maria Granda, whose aunt is buried in Blue Mountain Cemetery. “People are complaining. Flowers have been taken away. We had a plastic ornament, and they asked us to remove it. I believe in following rules, so we did remove it, but I know some people are very upset.”
“I think this was rather petty,” said Cheryl Wright. “It really stems from one person [Bach-Tucker]. I was in compliance. What she wants us to do is in conflict with what we were told we could do.”
“A lot of this could have been avoided if they had sent letters to people, and set up a meeting to discuss it,” said Jim Consentino.
The cemetery board is planning to meet with plot-holders in February to discuss the issue, said Solitto.