Alderman Mike Pigg, liaison to the cemetery committee, wants the city to find a way to fund repairs or replacement of broken and unreadable headstones in the original section of the Pacific City Cemetery.
Some 49 headstones are damaged or broken and lying in pieces, or completely unreadable due to their weathered sandstone content. Most deteriorated due to age, according to Alan Bruns, cemetery sexton.
Pigg started a fund-raising effort to raise money to make the needed repairs, which is estimated at $4,000.
The cemetery committee requested that $500 previously approved by the Pacific Tourism Commission for the King Adams monument, but never used, be transferred to the headstone repair project. However, city attorney Dan Vogel said the city cannot use taxpayer funds for private property and the tourism funds are collected in a special hotel-motel tax.
Vogel said the headstones are the property of descendants of those buried in the graves and it is their responsibility to repair the stones.
There also is a possibility that owners of the headstones could sue the city if their stones are repaired or replaced.
Marc Houseman, Franklin County Cemetery Committee (FCCC) chair, says worries of lawsuits over cemetery repairs seem overblown. The FCCC routinely makes repairs in untended county cemeteries, he noted.
“If someone sues the city for fixing Grandma’s headstone would that stand up in court?” Houseman asked. “It wouldn’t be a very friendly thing to sue someone for repairing the cemetery.”
If repairs are not made, what the city ends up with is a cemetery in perpetual neglect, Houseman said.
Mayor Herb Adams said he wants to see the needed repairs made and is researching possible procedures that would allow him to use city funds to pay for the work.
Adams said there is no question that a cemetery qualifies for tourism funds.
“We all visit cemeteries when we travel,” he said, “especially cemeteries where famous people are buried.”
The right to use city funds to make the repairs centers on private ownership of the stones, said Vogel, noting the gravestones are the property of the families of the deceased.
“I’ve asked Kim (Barfield, city clerk) to look into every aspect of this,” Adams said. “There must be a procedure that would allow the city to make the repairs.”
The age of the stone might be a factor, the mayor said.
“If a headstone is 3 years old, we might have to go the family to make the repairs,” Adams said. “But on stones that are very old, there is probably a procedure we can work through to legally spend the money.”
Cemetery committee members agreed, saying some of the graves are so old there is no one left to fix the broken stones or replace them.
“We’re thrilled to pieces that they’re looking into this,” said Ruth Muehler, cemetery committee chair. Muehler and several citizens have donated funds to a cemetery trust fund set up in 2000 to restore and maintain the two city cemeteries.
The cemetery sexton said the broken and weathered stones in the Pacific Cemetery Original (PCO) should be replaced with stones that can be read.
“They are in such bad shape we can’t do anything with them anymore,” Bruns said. “We’ve patched them some over the years. Some are almost impossible to read.”
New Granite Markers
He proposes laying the damaged stones flat and burying them on the gravesite and setting a new granite stone with the correct name and dates.
“We would not take anything away. Everything would be right there at the grave,” Bruns said. “This would be for genealogy, for people who need to read who is buried there.”
About 30 years ago, Bruns’ father, the late Raymond Bruns, was asked to rework a small family cemetery in western Franklin County, and Alan assisted in the work.
“That’s what we did there,” Bruns said. “We buried the old broken stone and put new granite markers on the gravesites. They will never erode.”
Bruns said he would donate 16 of the needed 49 headstones and would provide the others at his cost, which is $75.
But Pigg believes repairing the cemetery is the city’s responsibility.
“Alan should not have to do this with his money,” Pigg said.
The city cemetery was established in 1910, but many of the graves date in the 1800s.
The city purchased land and established Resurrection Hill Cemetery for African-Americans in 1909. The earliest dated burial there, which also predates formation of the cemetery, is Jasper Wager, who died in October 1895.
In 2000, then mayor Jill Pigg established a cemetery board to restore the two cemeteries. The late Barbara Bruns was named to chair the committee. The group organized fundraisers, set up a Cemetery Restoration Trust Fund, created a cemetery map, restored the Orr Street fence, installed monument signs and built visitor gazebos at both cemeteries.
The goal of the cemetery board was to make the heritage of the two cemeteries accessible to future generations.
In 2005, John Maurath, a Civil War grave specialist associated with the Civil War Museum in Jefferson Barracks, repaired and reset the marble stone of a Civil War veteran in the city cemetery at no cost to the city.
The stone was engraved Philip McGregor, 14th Colored Infantry, who served in a Tennessee regiment and was later buried in Pacific.
The damaged headstones in the two cemeteries have great historic significance, Adams said.
“We’re going to find the right way to make these repairs,” he said.