NEWARK, Ohio (WCMH) — Licking County’s largest cemetery, Cedar Hill Cemetery in Newark, has had a sign for decades that bars artificial flowers from spring through summer.
Residents said that, for decades, no strict rule against artificial ornaments, keepsakes, decorations, bird houses, or other relics was enforced — until now.
“We’ve had a decoration policy in place for fifty years. But in the past few years, that policy hasn’t been enforced, and that’s caused maintenance issues and safety issues here at the cemetery,” said newly-named Cedar Hill Cemetery Superintendent Chance Patznick.
Mourners who came to the cemetery to visit the grave sites of loved ones were greeted with removal warnings starting April 1. Loren Barber was one of those who visited the cemetery that week.
“That sign’s been read for generations by people, and it was referring to artificial flowers. They’ve now changed that sign, spent more money to change the sign. They’ve also added a new sign saying, ‘no borders,'” Barber said.
His daughter was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in 2015. Barber has visited her grave almost every day since then, where he has left mementos, keepsakes, and — always — a solar-powered light that shines onto her headstone.
“My daughter, she had her life taken. She’s not going to have her nightlight taken. There has to be a limit to overreach of power,” Barber said.
Under the policy, the light, mementos, and anything else deemed “artificial” in nature would have to be removed. The more than 38,000-grave cemetery boasts thousands of American flags, military flags, pinwheels, bird houses, and other sentimental items left by loved ones.
“All of a sudden, something like this, that my granddaughter left for her mother is contraband. It’s not acceptable,” Barber said.
At two Newark City Council meetings in April, dozens of people with loved ones buried at Cedar Hill spoke up against the new enforcement, raising questions about the policy — and what items were all right.
Barber said he felt that, in his conversation with city officials, there was a lot of confusion and frustration about what the sign — which he called vague — meant.
“Not one person has the right to come up and dictate to me or anyone else how we’re going to grieve,” he said. “These people work for us, they’re paid by us, they’re elected by us — and there was no vote that some grieving mother had to take ‘Winnie the Pooh’ off their grave, the grave of their child.”
Patznick said it had to do with weed eating, mowing, and other forms of landscaping on the property.
“If we were to hit an artificial object that could harm one of the maintenance guys or potentially someone in the cemetery. We’ve got 38,000 people buried here,” he said. “I’ve got to somehow meet in the middle. We’re just looking at where there’s wiggle room, and where we can compromise and give people the chance to grieve how they want to grieve, while we’re also able to maintain the ground.”
But Barber believes the city has had no injury or mechanical reports in the last 20 years.
Barber has asked to be able to place mementos, flags, pinwheels, flowers, and whatever else may fit in the area in front of the headstones. Patznick said she is working with the city to make something work “so everybody can hopefully grieve in a way that they feel is respectful.”
“We’re not going to go in as soon as it’s posted and start removing things. We’re working on an enforcement kind of plan as well, to give people time to come in and take care of their grave spaces, if they don’t fit within that new policy,” she said.