City willing to help cut overgrown grass at historic cemetery: Your Stories

Your Stories

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – When Elaine Shaben buried her parents at Myrtle Hill Cemetery in 2004, she found solace in the beauty of their final resting place.

Shaben tells the Your Stories team, “When you come here, it’s peaceful and calm. You can just pull your thoughts together. When you find it in this condition, it just rattles you.”

On Mother’s Day, Shaben found her parents’ graves hidden behind tall grass. Grass that continued to grow when she visited around Memorial Day.

The lawn became so overgrown, Shaben and her family mowed the area around her parents’ graves just to pay their respects.

Shaben says, “It’s just a lack of respect for the dead, for the people that you’ve cared about in your life. It shows a lack of respect to think you put them here.”

On the days following Memorial Day, one of the busiest days at cemeteries, Shaben and members of other families of the cemetery reached out to the Your Stories team with their concerns.

In some places, graves were totally inundated by waist-high grass. In some cases, it looks like the lawn wasn’t mowed once since the fall.

The cemetery’s sexton, Annie Papworth Blakely, tells NewsChannel 9 that when she took over, prior mismanagement left the cemetery without money to continue pay maintenance crews. Instead, Blakely’s husband and a cemetery board member took over the mowing, but the seven acres of steep hills were too much.

Blakely says, “I’ve been getting lots of phone call from people who have family members buried there, very upset. I understand. I have ten family members buried there.”

The sexton says she encouraged people to reach out to both NewsChannel 9’s Your Stories team and Syracuse City Hall.

Blakely said, “It was one of those things where it almost had to get that bad before something was going to get done about it.”

Thursday, the Your Stories team learned that Myrtle Hill Cemetery and the City of Syracuse have formed an alliance. The cemetery will provide its equipment for city staff members to take over the regular mowing.

“We will take care of the cemetery going forward, but using some of that equipment as well to take care of vacant lots and other properties. It’s a win-win for both sides,” Ken Towsley, the city’s director of code enforcement, tells NewsChannel 9. He says, without the cemetery’s contribution, “it would have been very difficult to take on. They had the equipment and we were able to hire some summer helpers, and give them a summer job. It really isn’t that much of an additional burden.”

The sexton seems relieved help is on the way, which allows her to focus on other priorities for the cemetery. Her next assignment, she says, is to clean up the record books, many of which were lost in a fire.

Blakely asks anyone with family members buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetery to contact her and share as much information they can about their loved one.

Contact: Annie Papworth Blakely at 315-487-2150.

Contact the Your Stories team:

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