To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. Elie Wiesel, Night
For almost two months, I have been engaged in a battle of wills with my city.

The City of Little Rock.

The subject of our frequent - and sometimes heated - discussion is the City's failure to properly maintain one of its properties.

Oakland Cemetery. Or as the City prefers to call it now - since its 2010 placement on the National Register of Historic Places - Oakland & Fraternal Historic Cemetery Park.

The City of Little Rock has owned Oakland since 1863. Of all the correspondence I've had with the City Attorney's office, that remains one of the facts undisputed by either the City or me.
It started with the memorial service I attended for my brother-in-law's mother.

Both of the bridges in the cemetery, either of which could have been used by those of us coming to Cricket's memorial service, were closed.

You had to detour to the entrance for the Jewish section of Oakland, and twist around the grass and gravel lanes on the backside of the Jewish cemetery to get to the Edmondson/Rollins plot.

And even though I was quite under the weather at the time, I noted that if this was the only way in to the cemetery office and about 2/3 of the cemetery, these little lanes were going to get worn out.

My sister, brother-in-law and I discussed that. I thought the bridges must only have been closed for a few months.

I was wrong.
According to documents I have obtained from the City through multiple requests under Arkansas' Freedom of Information Act, I discovered that since at least 9 May 2012, City officials have known of, and have been discussing among themselves, the failure of the structural integrity of the bridges. Which of course, led to the closure of both.

The City has talked, and talked, and talked. About replacing the bridges. They've had an engineer down there looking at the bridges. They've hypothesized about the cost of replacement.

And they haven't done a single thing.
The main entrance to Oakland Cemetery goes directly to the main bridge. There is now a sign posted at the main entrance to the cemetery that both bridges are closed.
 photo 1.jpg

However, you don't see the sign until you have started to make the turn into the main gate.

The main bridge to the office, and the majority of graves in the cemetery.
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A secondary bridge - narrower than the main bridge - but I have driven over it in the past.
 photo 10footbridge.jpg

The way the view looked from the office across the main bridge when I took this photo in late August 2011.
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The entrance to the Jewish section is not marked. And once you stumble upon it, and enter, there are no signs directing you to the cemetery office.

I have pointed out more than once to City officials that if I were in the market for a cemetery plot, and couldn't even find the office to inquire, I'd turn around and leave.

I understand that's happened - more than once.

And that's a Very. Big. Deal.

Because the City does not appropriate funds for the operation and maintenance of Oakland Cemetery. The Cemetery is expected to survive on what it can get from the sale of plots, opening and closing graves, perpetual care of the park-like setting of the cemetery, etc.

Oh. And fundraisers. Like wine and cheese parties. And twilight tours of sections of this historic cemetery.

As long as you don't try to come in the front gate to get to them.

The Cemetery has ended each year in the red for the past few years for which I have budget documents.

Every. Single. Year.
So, the deeper I probed, the more irritated I became.

Because if the ceiling collapsed in City Hall, no one would have to organize a wine and cheese party to get it fixed. It's City property and the City would fix it - whatever was needed after insurance paid a portion of the bill.

The City has assured me the bridges will be replaced. But they won't say when, or how, or at what cost, or who will do the work. And how they will maintain the historic accuracy required to keep Oakland's place on the National Register.

That's not acceptable.
Then, as is almost always the case in contests such as this, a darker side emerged.

Before, and for a short time after the turn of the 20th century, Oakland had sections of the property in which paupers were buried. Sextons over the years referred to these section of the property as Paupers' Field or Potters' Field.

One of them can be seen from the sexton's office.

I have it on pretty good authority that some of the plots containing "paupers'" remains were later sold to other people, and when evidence of a previous burial turned up, the pauper was disinterred, the grave was dug deeper, the previous grave occupant was re-interred, and the new burial was completed.

On top of the old one.

The City is dancing on that. The 20 Nov 2013 minutes of the meeting of the Oakland & Fraternal Historic Cemetery Park Board of Directors talks about the "problem."

And then, there was this document. It was either an attachment or a second page to a 27 Sep 2013 email from an Assistant City Attorney to the City Manager.
 photo Page_4crop.jpg

This one appears to confirm what I was told. Part of the mausoleum was built on top of paupers' graves.
The deeper I dig, the more questions I have.

I've asked some of them in writing. And gotten few answers.

The Assistant City Attorney told me, in an email dated 5 May 2014:
As for answering your questions, nothing requires me to answer them. Out of courtesy and an effort to be forthcoming and helpful, I have answered several of your questions previously. I am required to produce documents in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act and of course I will comply with the act. (Emphasis supplied.)

Really? I am a citizen and taxpayer in the City of Little Rock. I have ancestors buried at Oakland.

That's not acceptable.
One can tell the morals of a culture by the way they treat their dead. Benjamin Franklin

April 2016

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