Paying Respect: What to do and what not to do for cemetery tributes

single-meta-cal October 13, 2017

At a site of solemn repose, safety, decorum and respect are high priorities for the City of Huntsville.

However, those not abiding by some simple, common-sense rules – or, worse yet, who vandalize sacred property – present the occasional challenge for those who tend to Maple Hill Cemetery and the City’s eight other cemeteries.

Joy McKee, Landscape Management Director for the City of Huntsville, who oversees Maple Hill and the other cemeteries, says that the City  has compassion for those who have lost loved ones and want to decorate graves with mementos.

Maple Hill encompasses 77-plus acres and has been the site of some 80,000 to 100,000 burials.

“We work with families closely and respect the sadness they’re going through,” McKee says. Flowers are permitted at gravesites and will typically remain there for a week to 10 days.

A proliferation of other decorations and personal items has made it difficult – and dangerous – to maintain the grounds. (An example of the danger: a golf ball left behind in tribute to a deceased relative rolled from a gravesite and into a grassy area being mowed. The ball was spat out by the mower at such velocity, it went through the rear windshield of a nearby vehicle.)

The biggest challenges, fittingly, come from the biggest cemetery.

Maple Hill, which host to the annual Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll, encompasses 77-plus acres near downtown Huntsville. It has been the site of some 80,000 to 100,000 burials in the nearly two centuries of its existence.

Maple Hill is tended to with by City staff using high-powered mowers during the spring and summer. With the hundreds of trees that add to the site’s majesty, leaves are blown in the fall by high-powered blowers.

Because of that equipment, small personal items of tribute (the golf ball, for instance), fencing or memorabilia can interfere with maintenance – or can become a projectile.

All nine of the City-owned cemeteries have the same rules and regulations, which are presented to those who buy plots and to those in the midst of planning funerals at those cemeteries. As McKee notes, similar rules are in place at most municipally owned cemeteries across the country, as well national and military cemeteries.

There’s another factor in play, McKee says. Families “should be respectful of others, to make sure the sites are kept dignified.”

Cemetery rules

Among the regulations that families are required to follow are:

  • Visiting hours are 7 a.m. until sunset
  • No personal items are allowed to be placed on a grave space. That includes, but is not limited to, shepherd hooks, toys, arbors, shells, boxes, flags, trophies, stuffed animals, windmills, wind chimes, cans, statues, other memorabilia
  • No lights should be placed on gravesites
  • No benches are allowed unless they are granite and placed at the head of the grave as a headstone
  • The Cemetery Division has the right to remove from any grave artificial or live floral arrangements
  • Animals, except service animals, are prohibited in the cemetery
  • Coping, fencing, hedging borders or enclosures are prohibited
  • Check with the Cemetery Division prior to any monument requests to assure they meet standards of size, material, design and structure

    Lots at Maple Hill Cemetery are available for purchase. Visit the office at the cemetery or call 256-427-5730