26 Sep GRAVESITE & ANTIQUITIES ACT
“GREAT PEOPLE HAVE GREAT VALUES
AND GREAT ETHICS.”
There seems to be a great debate about what out values and our ethics are as a people. For every subject the comes a sharp divide now by sides of extreme views. As a people we do not talk with each other anymore we talk at each other. And many times it is shouting rather than talk.
History now is a subject that is wide open for revision and applying today’s values to yesterdays truths. Even the concept of truth is questioned. Where does this leave us? It leaves us at the brink of destroying what generations have worked, lived, and died for.
What is an indicator of where we are as a people? Very simply it is how we honor our dead. Can we stand by and allow the grave-sites of those that have gone on and be vandalized and forgotten?
The sad answer is that we do. Now what are you going to do about it?
For many years I have tried to create interest in the Kansas Legislature creating and passing the Grave Site and Antiquities Act. Very simply put, as a people we are judged as to how we treat those who have gone on before us. The answer to this is NOT VERY WELL!
If an individual grave site is not tended to by a land owner, if a cemetery has not had activity in the last 15 years (someone buried there), and if no group private or government has no responsibility for the protection and upkeep of a grave yard, it can be farmed or grazed over.
I have seen grave stones piled against trees and cattle let in to graze an old site that has had no one to care for it or anyone buried in it for decades. Yet the dates go back as far as early Kansas.
We are enraged when kids (or others) tear up a cemetery. Very seldom are the perpetrators caught and made to pay a price. They just go on to disrespect anything and everything in their community.
Even in Wichita in the oldest cemetery in the city, Highland, is located the ownership reverted to the City. Instead of having someone take care of the cemetery the Parks Department was put in charge of keeping the grass cut. So there are stones that have been damaged from not only vandals, but also from mowers run by part time summer help that are there to just get the job done.
Barb Meyers, a local historian and activist, has taken on the mission of forming a non profit group to try and restore some dignity to Highland. What they are dealing with are stones sunken underground, stones missing, stones vandalized, and graves disrespected. In fact a guy wire from a pole owned by the local electric utility was place right in the middle of a grave.
Barb’s group of volunteers meet on Saturdays to do the physical work of repairing stones and grooming graves. (the guy wire has been removed). On holidays Barb and her group are at the cemetery to give tours and talk about the residents who have been buried there. Many of the most important founders, and colorful citizens are buried here. Even a Governor, and other politicians and early business people. Barb has even written a book detailing the graves and who is in the Highland Cemetery. (it is available at Watermark Books). The book is a good read.
But for the thousands of other abandoned, forgotten, and neglected cemeteries in Kansas there is no guardian like Barb to take care of them. In many cases there are townships and even one school district that has the responsibility for the upkeep of a cemetery. There are also many institutions who do not want the task of keeping a cemetery up. And many that do not want that burden put upon them.
How does this speak to us as a people? Values, ethics, responsibility?
As if I do not have enough irons in the fire I still feel the call to have YOU the reader to do more than smile (or frown) at my views and put away this paper and do nothing. I call on YOU to pick up the ball and talk to your representatives in the House and Senate to pass legislation to protect our graveyards and historic sites.
Also I call for organizations and individuals to follow Barb Meyers lead and do something. There are school public service projects, 4-H groups, Scouting troops, and many other groups that can do something to bring dignity back to a cemetery site.
We have these sites all over these Gypsum Hills. I know of one grave in a road ditch in Kingman County. There is not a county in Kansas that does not have these abandoned and forgotten graves of our families and pioneers who brought us to this land we love. Even in our biggest cities there are the abandoned and neglected sites that need our protection.
After all, what are our values as a country, as a people, YOUR VALUES?