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Neglect, lack of enforcement at Connecticut's cemeteries

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s cemeteries continue to suffer from neglect and lack of rule enforcement, according to advocates, families and officials.

“Many of Connecticut’s oldest and most historic cemeteries are suffering from severe neglect and are in critical, sometimes desperate, need of care and restoration,” state Historian Walter W. Woodward told the Hartford Courant on Sunday.

A fund for neglected cemeteries was created in 2014 by the state legislature and has been paying towns between $2,000 and $3,300 each year to mow grass and repair gravestones and other features like fencing. The money for the fund comes from death certificate fees and has been fully spent each year, Office of Policy and Management spokesperson Chris McClure told the newspaper.

A former board member of the Connecticut Cemetery Association and current volunteer trustee for two cemeteries in Brookfield, Jeff Nolan, wants a state commission to oversee cemeteries and to regionalize and professionalize their management.

He suggested using geographic information system mapping to attach the precise location of graves to a person’s vital records. He also said record keeping is shoddy at many of the cemetery associations that run the state’s 5,000 graveyards. Families of the dead often pay cemeteries to keep up the grounds and millions of dollars of those funds are essentially unaccounted for, he said.

One such relative, retired lawyer Cheryl Jansen, wondered in 2018 where the money she was paying to Park Cemetery in Bridgeport was going. Her questions eventually resulted in the discovery that some 130 graves had been improperly disturbed at the cemetery — which includes graves from Civil War soldiers — and the arrest of the caretaker.

In Connecticut, the state public health department must approve new cemeteries, but no state agency is specifically charged with cemetery oversight.

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