Cemetery board, plot holders come to truce over grave decorations

Joe Puma at the Blue Mountain Cemetery (photo by David Gordon)

Joe Puma at the Blue Mountain Cemetery (photo by David Gordon)

A disagreement over grave decoration policy has led to greater involvement by plot holders at the Blue Mountain Cemetery.

The issue flared up last fall when Teresa Bach-Tucker, of the cemetery’s board, removed various decorations from gravestones which were in violation of cemetery standards. A number of plot holders objected, saying they weren’t notified of the changes and that the rules were too strict.


The disagreement is similar to those that play out over zoning regulations, which often pit volunteer boards enforcing community-wide beautification rules against individuals who feel they should be able to use their own design on their own property. Throw in a higher level of emotion — as some treat the graves of their loved ones as shrines — and it’s easy to see how the situation became heated.

Joe Puma, who spoke out about the changes last year, reports that relations are better following several meetings. Negotiation beats fighting, says the former union member, whose mother is buried in the picturesque cemetery.

A group of about a dozen plot holders will continue to meet with the cemetery board. Group members have agreed to handle such maintenance jobs as keeping the grounds neat and mowing the grass, and are working on digitizing cemetery records to make it easier to contact plot holders. “We aren’t going anywhere,” said Puma.

One provision Puma called especially important is the extension of the right to display flags on the graves of firefighters. “These are people who risked their lives for their neighbors, and their relatives should be allowed to fly the flag at their grave sites,” he said.

The regulations allow loved ones to place objects within a 12-foot in front of tombstones. Holiday-related decorations must be removed within one month after the date of the holiday, except for Christmas decorations, which may be left in place until the spring cleanup. Regulations also specify the placement of urns and flowerpots, general upkeep and the right of the cemetery board to remove items that become unsightly (after notification to the plot holder).

The recently-elected cemetery board president John Finger said he had approached the negotiations with some apprehension. “I didn’t know what would happen, if there would be conflict, but it was very friendly, very cooperative. There were some disagreements, and we gave some and they gave some and it worked out for everybody.”