The warning flags appeared last week -- more than 350 of them, each marking one of the concrete flower urns and graveside benches that have decorated Calvary Cemetery for decades.
Jamie Swartz, visiting the graves of her grandparents, didn’t like what she saw when she read the handwritten notes taped to the flags: “To be removed Nov. 11.”
“It’s so sad to see all those flags on that part of history that they’re going to get rid of,” Swartz said. “I don’t think people know what’s happening.”
This is what’s happening: Calvary has a new manager, and he has a mandate to clean up the 144-year-old cemetery at 40th and O streets. His workers already removed 70 dead, dying and poorly placed trees. And his long-term beautification plans including realigning the cemetery’s 6,000 graves.
But for now, Father Thomas MacLean has asked his staff to identify, and remove, the unauthorized flower pots and benches that have long been part of the Catholic cemetery’s complexion.
“These types of things -- the benches and the flower urns -- have never been permitted,” he said. “They’ve been tolerated in the past.”
The concrete urns range in size from buckets to bird baths to bigger. Some could be more than a century old. Some are well-tended, although MacLean estimates at least half are abandoned -- his staff flipped over empty urns this summer and many remain that way.
“Some are very tall and top heavy, so they’re a liability. People take it upon themselves to paint them. It becomes unsightly. They’re very large. They take up space,” he said.
And they’re not part of the contract people sign when they buy gravesites from Calvary, he said. Beyond grave markers and monuments, “ownership does not permit the owner to place or install any permanent or nonpermanent structures on the property.”
But the cemetery did allow it. For decades. Which is why the sudden enforcement might be a shock.
“It’s all part of the way to restore some beauty to the cemetery, but it’s hard,” he said. “It’s difficult when families use them, and there are a lot of flowers in them. They will be missed.”
Earlier this month, the cemetery put a notice in the diocese newspaper and marked each outlawed item with a flag, giving families until Nov. 11 to retrieve their urns and benches. The cemetery will remove the remaining items after that.
And it will sell permanent replacement vases, and allow families to buy them elsewhere -- as long as they meet cemetery approval.
Phyllis Buckley -- whose family owns nearly 20 gravesites at Calvary, including hers -- understood the need to clean up the cemetery. But she questioned the approach. And the timing.
“I know times have changed, and I know Father is trying to do the best thing for everybody, I just think they’re being a little pushy.”
When her husband died in 1994, and she bought their marker, she also bought flower urns from a nursery and a bench from the cemetery, she said.
Her niece will take the bench. Buckley will take the pots home, maybe put them in her yard or sell them at a garage sale.
She’s worried about finding the money on her fixed income to buy new vases. And she’s worried about the families who only visit the cemetery once a year, like on Memorial Day, and might not have heard about the remove-them-or-lose-them fate of the urns.
The cemetery could have waited until spring, she said.
“At this stage in the game, what are they going to do this winter, besides move pots around?”
Reach Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.