Aging Headstones A Concern At Saline’s Oakwood Cemetery

By Angelo Parlove

No doubt, the headstones and grave sites in the Oakwood Cemetery is an important part of the history of the City of Saline.

“If we lose those stones, that is a major part of our history, and some of those stones are really unique and some of our founders for our city,” Saline City Council Member Dean Girbach said.

As time and history passes, some headstones in the older part of Oakwood Cemetery are in need of restoration. “Oakwood Cemetery has a problem with how it looks and need of repair,” said Bob Lane, secretary for the Saline Area Historical Society. “Our cemetery, I’m sorry to say, is the poorest kept cemetery I’ve seen in our area. It needs some work somehow.”

However, perpetual care arrangements severely limits the city’s abilities to restore the old headstones. “Basically you don’t own the headstones,” City Attorney Scott Smith informed city council and staff at the regular council meeting July 17. “You’d have to contact the heirs and get permission from them.”

Perpetual care arrangements indicate the city doesn’t maintain the headstones or the foundations underneath them. The headstones belong to the families, so any work would have to be done only with family permission.

Further muddying the waters, opinions differ on how aging and deteriorating headstones should be addressed.

“It’s also my understanding that there’s a difference of opinion as to whether they ought to be repaired or whether they’re a better historical resource if they aren’t,” Smith said. “There’s not unanimity of views on that.”

Going forward, the city could address restoration by changing language in the perpetual care arrangements, stating the city reserves the right to maintain and make repairs. However, even if such changes were made, it doesn’t resolve any issues for the historical stones already in Oakwood Cemetery.

For those that already exist, you would still have to get the permission from the families, Smith said.

If the city wants to preserve the integrity of the information on the historic headstones, one option might be to place a marker or plaque at the grave sites. John Olsen, executive director at the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce, suggested the idea to city council this week.

“One of things I’ve done in the past is map graveyards,” Olsen said. “A lot of the limestone ones just kind of deteriorate to the point I don’t know how you would fix them without replacing them, so that might be alternative to be able to have the information that will be there.”

The maintenance and repair of the old headstones, as well as policy if the city were to damage a headstone during property maintenance, will be discussed by the Oakwood Cemetery Task Force in the future. Any subsequent recommendations by the task force would then come to city council.

“There is certainly value in preserving the very old part of our cemetery and looking in the future how do we protect and make enjoyable and have it as a resource for our community,” Council Member Christen Mitchell said.


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