Buried in the Front Yard

front yard/grave yard

Is it OK to bury your loved ones in the front yard? If you live in Stevenson, AL, probably not:

James Davis is fighting to keep the remains of his late wife right where he dug her grave: In the front yard of his home, just a few feet from the porch.

Davis said he was only abiding by Patsy Ruth Davis’ wishes when he buried her outside their log home in 2009, yet the city sued to move the body elsewhere. A county judge ordered Davis to disinter his wife, but the ruling is on hold as the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals considers his challenge. Davis, 73, said he never expected such a fight.

“Good Lord, they’ve raised pigs in their yard, there’s horses out the road here in a corral in the city limits, they’ve got other gravesites here all over the place,” said Davis. “And there shouldn’t have been a problem.”

While state health officials say family burial plots aren’t uncommon in Alabama, city officials worry about the precedent set by allowing a grave on a residential lot on one of the main streets through town. They say state law gives the city some control over where people bury their loved ones and have cited concerns about long-term care, appearance, property values and the complaints of some neighbors.

“We’re not in the 1800s any longer,” said city attorney Parker Edmiston. “We’re not talking about a homestead, we’re not talking about someone who is out in the country on 40 acres of land. Mr. Davis lives in downtown Stevenson.”

A strong libertarian streak runs through northeast Alabama, which has relatively few zoning laws to govern what people do with their property. Even a neighbor who got into a fight with Davis over the gravesite — Davis said he punched the man — isn’t comfortable with limiting what a homeowner can do with his property.

“I don’t think it’s right, but it’s not my place to tell him he can’t do it,” said George W. Westmoreland, 79, who served three tours of duty in Vietnam. “I laid my life on the line so he would have the right to do this. This is what freedom is about.”

Westmoreland declined to discuss his specific objections to the grave.

It’s unclear when the appeals court might rule. Attorneys filed initial papers in the appeal on Friday. The decision could come down to whether the judges believe the front-yard grave constitutes a family plot that requires no approval or a cemetery, which would.

As it is, Davis said his five children will bury him in the yard beside Patsy after he dies, and they and his 15 grandchildren will care for the property from then on.

“That’s my perpetual care,” said Davis, referring to the city’s worry about what the grave will look like after he dies.

Davis is adamant that he won’t move the body, regardless of what any court says.

“If they get it done it’ll be after I’m gone,” said Davis. “So if they order her to be moved, it’s a death sentence to me. I’ll meet Mama sooner than I planned on it.”

Now that’s called standing your ground.

Beware of the Bronze Thieves

Bronze Vase - Photo Credit: cemeterybroker.com

You’ve probably heard of thieves stealing copper wire and selling it to the local scrap yard. But copper is old news – the new king of scrap is bronze. And enterprising thieves (with no morals) get their supply of bronze from the cemetery. Yes, the cemetery.

Does your loved one have a bronze plaque or flower vase on their grave? As evidenced by the following news reports, you might want to check and make sure it’s still there…

In January, 2011 a thief left 120 vases behind when he was spotted at Gracelawn Memorial Park in New Castle
County, Delaware.

In April, 2011 two Pottstown, PA men were charged with felony counts of theft, receiving stolen property and institutional vandalism for allegedly stealing more than 200 bronze vases from Highland Memorial Cemetery.

Thieves stole dozens of bronze vases from a cemetery in repeated thefts over the past month, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage, authorities said. The Yuba County Sheriff’s Department said at least 60 of the heavy metal ornaments were ripped out of graves at the Sierra View Memorial Park by suspects who apparently posed as mourners.

That last report really gets me…these thieves decided stealing in the dark of night wasn’t good enough, they would just go in the daytime and pretend to be mourners! But this lowlife gets the prize:

Police are looking for a thief who stole nearly four dozen bronze flower vases from plots at a Rio Rancho, NM cemetery. Most of them were taken from the veterans section of the cemetery. Authorities say a thief stole eight bronze plaques – totaling $65,000 – from a foreign war memorial, making off with the only official list of all the deceased veterans who belonged to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6919 in Morningside, Md. The list reportedly dated back to World War I.

Stealing from veterans? Really?? Have you no heart?

A bronze vase can cost upwards of $300 while top-of-the-line bronze markers go for about $4,000, but scrap yards typically pay $1 – $1.50 a pound for bronze so it’s not as if the thieves are making millions off their ill-gotten gains. However, it’s still worth the risk especially since it’s unlikely that they will be caught. Most cemeteries are unable to patrol each and every acre they own, let alone install video cameras to catch thieves and vandals. So when nobody’s looking, off goes the bronze.

How sad and frustrating for the families that are victims of this petty crime. It truly is shameful that this kind of robbery even exists. So next time you visit the cemetery, look out for any suspicious ‘mourners’ and always alert cemetery management if something looks off.

Have you checked on your loved ones grave lately?