Several family members with loved ones buried at Frankfort Cemetery are appalled by the pile of concrete planters, urns, statues and other memorabilia at the back of the cemetery.
Rules to clear gravesites (announced in The State Journal and on a large sign on cemetery property) went into effect Jan. 31. Cemetery officials said they decided to put unclaimed memorabilia at the back of the cemetery rather than throw it away.
“We hated to do this to those who take care of their graves, but we had to follow the rules for everyone,” Superintendent Coleman Kincaid said. “If it was not attached to a stone, we removed it.”
Pat Woods, of Frankfort, is among those upset by the policy.
“They even removed things that were sitting on tombstones and just threw them in a pile,” Woods said.
“What respect have they shown for us or our loved ones?”
Woods is especially distraught that markers are gone in a section many refer to as the baby cemetery.
“When my brother and sister died in the 40s, my parents could not afford tombstones,” Woods said. “I recently purchased new markers and replaced the old ones. They are gone.” A wooden cross that marked one child’s grave is no longer there, she added.
The State Journal began receiving complaints two weeks ago from angry grave owners, like Woods, who recently returned to the cemetery to find their mementos missing.
Kincaid said removal actually began a bit later than advertised, but as the weather gets warmer, people who are returning to gravesites are expressing concerns that their tributes are no longer there.
Janice Wilson, of Frankfort, has parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and her husband, Earl Wilson, who passed away three years ago, buried at the cemetery.
“Earl was a history buff and he loved Frankfort Cemetery and its history,” Wilson said. “It’s why I buried him here.”
Wilson explained that because she was living in Bowling Green last fall, she was unaware of any of the advertisements announcing the policies. “And I guess that sign has been there forever, but for me they needed to put up something that said ‘pay attention.’”
Wilson was surprised to find a pewter urn missing when she visited the cemetery last week.
“It was a nice urn and expensive,” Wilson said.
But she said a kind worker at the cemetery offered to take her where the removed items are located at the back of the cemetery.
“He was so helpful and fortunately we found it,” she said.
“I’m not sure what they did was wrong (removing everything), but I didn’t like the way they did it. I just feel my rights as a grave owner have been taken away.”
Many cemeteries in Kentucky have policies restricting what can be placed on graves and when.
“There are so many ways that objects near and around graves make it hard for us to do the maintenance that this cemetery requires. We have 20,000 graves here.” Kincaid said.
“The rules have always been here. It’s just in the past they were loosely observed and I am the one now charged with enforcing them.”
Cemetery Board Member Dorothy Wilson supports Kincaid and thinks the recent cleaning enhances the property’s beauty and serenity.
“I think Coleman and the men who work here have done a nice job and definitely think it looks better,” Wilson said.
She too has received complaints, and many who called were very angry, she said.
“We (the board) began discussing the condition of the cemetery two or three years ago and the fact that there was a policy and it is on every contract, but had not been enforced,” said Wilson, the board member.
“When Coleman came on as superintendent last summer, we explained to him that the cemetery needed to be cleaned up.”
While most graves had one or two mementos strategically placed, others had 10-15 that had never been cleaned or removed.
Kincaid said he became the messenger to the grave owners, but adds enforcement doesn’t mean owners can never have flowers on the graves.
“The policy allows grave owners to put flowers and mementos on graves for several months,” he said. “It is not as though owners or loved ones can never do it.”
Decorations and flowers can be placed on graves a week prior to Easter and a week after; a week prior to Memorial Day and a week after; and from late November until Jan. 30.
“If owners want their things, they should remove them within those allotted times or we will remove them,” said Kincaid, adding this gives workers the time to continue maintenance on the cemetery.
His wife, Rhonda, manages the office at Frankfort Cemetery and has received many of the complaints.
“This has not been easy,” she said. “I have taken a lot of phone calls from people who are upset. Some have even come to the house after office hours.”
The Kincaids say they recognize many people have gone to great expense to decorate their graves and want people to be able to retrieve their things.
“Owners can call the office any time during business hours, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., and I will be happy to arrange a time for them to pick up their things,” Rhonda Wilson said.
“Or they can just come here during that time and someone will show them where we have put everything.”
Woods is still perplexed about the removal of the small grave markers, and said she has not been able to find them.
“I have looked through that mess in the back and they are not there,” Woods said. “The markers for our graves are all we had. I replaced them with new ones and now no one can tell me where they are.”
Some are looking for recourse, saying those who sit on the board are insensitive to their grief.
According to Kincaid, seven board members for the cemetery are selected every five years, and November 2010 is an election year.
Kincaid said there are written procedures for the elections and he is currently reading them to make sure the process follows the policies in place.
With spring approaching, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips are coming up around many of the graves.
Kincaid said perennials, annual flowers and small shrubs can be planted within 12 inches of a marker.
“We also plant memory trees, and I really encourage people to talk to us about that program,” he said.