Allowing mourners to visit the graves of their dearly departed might seem like the sole function of a cemetery, but that is exactly what the new owners of a graveyard in Pennsylvania don’t want happening on their property.
The small cemetery in Berks County and the church adjoining it were sold at auction in 2010, the Reading Eagle reports. And in the years since, the owners have been trying to keep visitors out and prohibit future burials: In 2013, the owners announced they wouldn’t honor plots sold by those who had previously owned the cemetery. Then a year later, “no trespassing” and “private property” signs started popping up around the cemetery.
Relatives of the deceased say they were warned that police would be called if they kept coming to visit, that their flowers and flags would disappear within days of visiting, and thatthe grass would remain uncut for weeks at a time.
Last August, the owners filed a civil lawsuit seeking to permanently ban visitors from entering the cemetery, and gave the family members the option to exhume the bodies of their loved ones to be re-interred somewhere else.
Families of the deceased gave testimony during a hearing of the state’s House GOP Policy Committee, stories that will be used to push a bill that would guarantee “reasonable access” by the relatives of those buried in privately-owned cemeteries, the Eagle notes.
One woman said during the hearing that she bought a plot next to her husband, who passed away in 1995. But now she says she was told she can’t be buried there, WGAL-8 reports.
“It’s cruel,” she said.
“The dead are not their property. It’s not real estate,” another cemetery visitor said.
The family claims they were unaware that the cemetery was still operational when they bought the property, their attorney says, and just wanted an office building to rent as an investment property.
“It’s a tough situation for everyone,” the family’s attorney told Philly.com. He says that the couple looked for ownership deeds for the families that had plots, but didn’t find any.
“My clients understand [the families] feel like they got ripped off,” he said, adding that the owners hope to reach a settlement that “relieves them of any potential liability” for burials and visitors, or obtain a court order “finding that it’s private property and anyone seeking to come on the property needs permission.”
Hearing on proposed legislation about cemetery access will be held in Caernarvon Township [Reading Eagle]
New owners of Berks County cemetery post ‘no trespassing’ signs; Visitors upset with changes [WGAL-8]
Chesco family buys cemetery, sues to keep mourners out [Philly.com]
by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist