Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By KEITH EDWARDS Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA – A two-year project to raise, realign and clean 6,517 headstones at the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery is meant to improve the grounds of the cemetery and prevent the headstones of veterans and their families from sinking into the earth.
Betty Marchant places flowers Monday September 9, 2013 on the plots of her brother and sister-in-law at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.
Staff photo by Andy Molloy
However, the daughter of a couple buried there, who found weeds and dirt covering their headstones because of the project, said the conditions of the cemetery were so disgraceful during a recent visit that she wanted to exhume her parents' bodies and take them elsewhere.
That clearly isn't the reaction officials and the contractor on the job were hoping the project would elicit from the families of those buried at the cemetery on Civic Center Drive.
"It has been a great project. On the whole, it's pretty clear the end result is going to look great when the grass has grown back in," said David Richmond, superintendent of the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery System. "In this case, weeds grew instead of grass. It was bad. I certainly regret we weren't able to catch the weed problem and deal with it. I think we have a plan that will take care of it in the future."
Susan Umberger, a North Carolina resident in Maine visiting relatives, has visited her parents' graves at the older of two Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery sites in Augusta multiple times this summer. Each time, she said, she has been upset by the conditions of Section R, where her parents are buried.
She first visited in July and found the section where her parents are buried had been dug up for the headstone rehabilitation project, which she said is understandable. She returned in late August and found it so overgrown with tall weeds that she had to use her foot to dig through the weeds and dirt to expose some of the headstones.
"If I could have exhumed my parents' bodies that day, I would have. That's how I felt," Umberger said Tuesday. "It's not just my parents there. The men and women who served their country, and their family members, they deserve better."
Tom Farley of Rockport-based Farley & Son Landscaping, the contractor on the $441,000 project, acknowledges Section R, where Umberger's parents are buried, recently was covered in crab grass and weeds, not the grass they'd hoped to grow.
He said a combination of factors, including a lack of water pressure that prevented workers from watering the grass, a period of warm weather and a time of year more favorable for growing weeds than grass resulted in unwanted growth.
He said the section has since been reseeded, but it'll still take a couple of weeks before that section starts to look like a good lawn.
"I understand completely" why Umberger was upset, Farley said. "Ultimately, you're breaking a few eggs to make an omelet. It's messy for a while, but it will end up looking good. We want to make sure it's right."
Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at: