Believe it or not, spring is just around the corner. Before you know it, the days will get longer, the sun will come up earlier and set later, and the warmth of the season will return. It will not be long before February teases us with Groundhog’s Day. Except for those who love the cold and snowy season, the hope for the rest of us is for a cloudy day so the groundhog will not see its shadow and we can have an early spring. Or, so goes the folklore.
Regardless, as sure as warm weather returns, families will return to the cemetery in great numbers. Flower planting in earnest begins after what is hoped to be the last frost of the season, and along with the beauty that grows from this annual process, also come the complaints. Most of the complaints come in the form of “why can’t I plant whatever I want to”, or “someone took the Teddy Bear off my child’s grave”, or “I demand to know why there is water on my lot”, or “someone stole my flag” and on and on.
There are two main areas of concern when cemeteries decide what they will allow and not allow regarding grave decorations: the appearance of the cemetery and the cost to maintain what is allowed. For instance, some cemeteries allow virtually anything. It does not take long for such cemeteries to start looking like a dump. A Teddy Bear that is placed on a grave on a nice sunny day has a special meaning to the person who placed it there. After the first rainfall and heavy winds, what was cute now looks like a clump of stuffed cloth that may have been blown far away from the original placement.
Flags, artificial flowers, concrete angels, shepherd’s poles holding baskets of flowers and more become hazards when the lawns are being maintained. A lawnmower that costs thousands of dollars can have serious damage to its blades when it meets up with wires from grave decorations or objects of endearment that are quickly turned into refuse with just one pass of a sharpened blade. Such objects can also present a danger to the grounds crew when a lawnmowers and weed eaters hit them with such force as to send projectiles in every direction.
It has been suggested that we have guards to keep items from being stolen. Go back to your high school math days and run an estimate of costs which would have to be passed on to the consumer and it becomes a frightening number. Forty sections (some sections would need many guards because of the contour of the grounds and the size of the sections) x three shifts of guards to cover the each 24 hour day x 365 days in a year x $20 per hour for each including benefits and taxes = approximately $876,000 per year. And without trying to seem overly simplistic or dismissive in this cost analysis, that is a lot of money spent to keep the 10 to 12 items per year that are reported as having been stolen from being stolen. As important as an item might be to the memory of a loved one, the best way to prevent items from being stolen is to not allow items of value that become an invitation to a thief.
We have 70,000 property owners and over the 88 years of our existence as a family owned enterprise, that translates into the millions of family and friends that are connected to Calumet Park Cemetery due to having loved ones buried here. It would be prohibitively expensive to try to tell them all what the rules are so we have maps with grave decoration rules available at the front desk that speak to such issues. We have staff available to answer any question about what is allowed on any given grave in the 160 developed acres of land, and when people invest in cemetery property, we give them clear guidelines on what is or is not allowed.
The point is that a decision was made in 1928 when this cemetery came into existence that it would always be maintained as a park-like parcel of land that would offer beauty and dignity to both the deceased and the families and loved ones of those cradled here for eternity. It is not always popular to tell a family that their choice of a meaningful tribute is not allowed. And today, with the use of the internet, people feel so brave as they make anonymous negative comments on company facebook pages and on websites. Freedom of speech is always welcome, but when that freedom infringes on the rights of others, it is sad. Each undeserved negative comment hurts the very entity that they attack. In the case of Calumet Park Cemetery, the staff does all that is possible to ensure the beauty of the cemetery while complying with applicable laws, rules and regulations.
So, bring on spring and summer. Bring on all the outdoor activities we love and the cookouts and the ice cream cones on a hot, summer’s night. And please, check with us before coming in to plant for the 2017 year so we can work together on a way to honor those you love in a way that meets the needs of the many…and that means keeping your cemetery’s reputation as being a beautiful memorial park.