In his letter, Let Us Lift Our Memorials Above Ground, Mr. Brunberg raised some legitimate concerns about the maintenance of, and regulations around, section S of the Westwood cemetery; but they are concerns that the Friends of Westwood has been addressing since we formed in 2014.
Mr. Brunberg writes: “Our gravestones in Section S are sinking into the ground, obscuring the names of those who lived and died here.”
Since 2014, Friends of Westwood has put on its schedule to clean gravestones twice a year throughout the cemetery. It is a huge job but it will be continual. In addition, the maintenance crew at the cemetery has been raising sunken gravestones and straightening vertical gravestones and will continue to do all it can with its limited time, resources, and personnel. We all know that Oberlin is a very swampy city, and the cemetery is no exception.
“[The gravestones] are also essentially desecrated by repeatedly being run over by lawn mowers — leaving them covered in tracks, debris, and mud. It’s disgraceful.”
While it is true that the flat gravestones may be run over occasionally, it is certainly not a common occurrence, and the maintenance crew does its best to avoid this.
“African-Americans in particular were deceptively steered into that section [S].”
We cannot guess this is what happened, but people of African descent are buried throughout Westwood Cemetery, and folks of other ethnicities are buried in Section S as well. All the burial plots cost the same, so I’m not sure why this statement was made. If Mr. Brunberg believes people of African descent were steered toward Section S because they may have been unable to pay, they would have been interred in Potter’s Field, but that practice was abandoned in 1984 in favor of interring people throughout the cemetery. This demonstrates a sensitivity toward economic nondiscrimination.
“I have so far contacted other families who have told me they were never told about the restrictions when they purchased their plots — and all of them are African-Americans.”
There is information in city ordinance 921.10(j) from 1985 that states: “All memorials in Section S and new sections to be developed must conform to regulations previously established.” There is also a brochure which states: “The top or face of all grave markers shall, when set, be flush with the ground within Section S and Z.” It is unfortunate, but very believable, that folks are so overwhelmed with information following the death of a loved one that they may have forgotten some details.
In addition to the above information, Frank Zavodsky, our beloved sexton for many years, wrote an article entitled “Sesquicentennial Story” for The Oberlin Tribune which reads: “The land will also be developed in a park plan manner and should serve the needs of the citizens of Oberlin for many years to come. In the new part only markers flush with the ground are permitted. This is mainly for the maintenance – makes it easy for the mowers — but it does also provide a wide expanse of green.”
We, the Friends of Westwood Cemetery, sympathize with Mr. Brunberg’s dilemma and if there is anything we can do to help, especially to memorialize his family, we encourage him to contact us.