A wrong done to Ventura's pioneers

Ventura County Star

A wrong done to Ventura's pioneers

By Steve Schleder
July 3, 2005

The city of Ventura is as deceitful, disrespectful and self-serving today — when it tries to turn over restoration of our county founders' graves to a small group of dog people — as it was in 1955 when it built the Recreation Center on Catholic graves and in 1965 when it desecrated what remained of St. Mary's Cemetery and the entire Ventura Cemetery.

The city asks us to believe that things are different today. In an article on the cemetery in the May edition of the Camp Chase Gazette, a Civil War aficionado's publication, Ventura City Manager Rick Cole is quoted: "Where we come from is a certain humility, asking the question, 'How do we rectify the past in the context of today?' "

As if crimes are different today.

He goes on to say, "We can't recapture what was destroyed 40 years ago, but I think the vast majority (of Ventura's citizens) feel a sense of responsibility."

What is he hiding? In truth, I believe he says we can't begin to restore the cemetery because it would open the city to serious legal and financial liability. I will explain this better further in this commentary.

City of Ventura has bunker mentality

All along the city has had its agenda set, from the top down. I haven't been able to understand this attitude with such a heinous crime being condoned and maintained.

The city has had a bunker mentality right from the get-go. The city put out a propaganda video with the parks supervisor and parks commissioner practically swearing that there were no bodies buried under the parking lot, that they were all on the eastern side of the cemetery.

But, using the city's own burial records, I could certify that there were seven Catholics buried in the very western section of the parking lot.

In the Feb. 6 edition of the Los Angeles Daily News, Parks Supervisor Jerry Revard said there could be, maybe, four people under the parking lot. And even though there may be four bodies under the parking lot, the city insisted on proceeding with its "mob rule" survey.

Please see "Comments on the Survey, An Open Letter by Edson Strobridge," at http://www.restorestmarys.org.

What are they hiding?

The Clerk's Office hasn't complied with any of my requests for cemetery documentation since May 29, 2004, when, in fact, I was given a redacted file. This is against the law. What are they hiding?

A year ago, I had requested that the city repair the halyard on the flagpole at the cemetery so that we could hoist a flag in honor of the Civil War Maj. Gen. William Vandever who is buried in a desecrated grave there. The city answered my request by cutting the flagpole down with a gas torch a week before our Memorial Day celebration. What are they hiding?

If you wanted to rebuild your house, would you hire a gang of arsonists? If the burial grounds of your "faithful departed" were to be "rehallowed" and restored, should we hire a gang of desecrators? We must take the cemetery away from the city immediately!

Graves built over

The 1946 aerial photograph that accompanies this commentary shows the cemetery before the city built the Recreation Center in 1955. The white line is where the chain-link fence is today. From the white line to the left is where the parking lot is today and where the Recreation Center was.

They are hiding the fact that they built right over the top of several hundred Catholic graves. This explains why the city manager says, "We can't recapture...," why they have an attitude, why they redact files, why they have a bunker mentality, why they will even cut down flagpoles.

This past Memorial Day, I invited every man, woman and child to go to the cemetery's parking lot to pray with the local Catholic Rosary and Altar Societies for the 200 to 300 Catholics buried underneath.

Dead honored

We also had a military roll call for the certified 54 Civil War, Spanish War and Mexican veterans lying in desecrated graves with many of their wives and children buried at their sides. These are the people who gave their lives for our country, our county and our town, San Buenaventura.

-- Steve Schleder, of Ventura, is an architectural restorationist and vice president of the San Buenaventura Conservancy. He is also a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. For more information on efforts to restore the Ventura cemetery, go online to http://www.restorestmarys.org/index.htm. (This website)

Copyright 2005, Ventura County Star. All Rights Reserved.

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