Ventura's dead deserve better



This article apeared in the Ventura County Star

By Patricia Clark Doerner
January 27, 2005

Ventura's dead deserve better

Re: Ed Wehan's Dec. 21 commentary, "Cemetery proper no part of plans for park":
While I agree with Ventura Parks and Recreation Commissioner Wehan's statement that "there is a great deal of misinformation or misunderstanding" regarding city plans for Memorial Park, I believe that the misunderstanding, at least regarding appropriate priorities, falls back in his ballpark, or cemetery park, to be precise.

It took me a considerable amount of time and effort to research the information and photographs, with the help of Steve Schleder who started this movement, then to construct the program, and in the process gather those who wished to testify that this project should be, as my program is entitled, a "Question of Priorities." This program was presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission on Oct. 20. Afterward, Commissioner Jim White kindly thanked me for "putting a face on the cemetery problem"; Commissioners Suz Montgomery-Hart and Sharon Troll voiced their appreciation as well.

It came as a shock to me that the staff did not hear what any of us were saying (Ventura Public Works Director Ron Calkins' Dec. 4 column, "Tell Ventura leaders how to change Cemetery Park"). Now, I find that at least one of the commissioners failed to hear us as well, and his is the public voice.

What are my objections? As stated in my original presentation, it is a question of priorities. Before the city proceeds with any plans for City Memorial Park, and it has the money to do so, it should first attempt to rectify the damage done by its predecessors in the 1960s desecration. To reiterate:

1. There are 3,000 bodies lying in unmarked graves in the middle of the city of Ventura. The graves are unmarked because the city decided to "unmark" them, even though the plots and markers had been paid for with the reasonable expectation that they would be maintained in perpetuity.

I have been told that if I wish to have a marker placed on my great-grandparents' graves (and on those of their siblings and extended family), I would have to do so at my own expense. I asked for the policies involved, as I was aware that other families had not been so charged. I was told that there are no policies nor have there ever been; there are merely protocols, evidently changed according to the whim of some loosely defined consortium of city leaders -- leaders who are, as I rather ungraciously observed, "lacking in moral compass." (As recently as 2002, the city did pay for markers, the last being ordered in October of that year.)

2. There are rescued tombstones lying about the city as well; many have offered to return these tombstones as soon as a secure location is determined, preferably in the cemetery itself, perhaps even over the grave of the person for whom the tombstone was purchased (novel idea, I know, but some think that this might constitute some form of justice).

Yet another city "protocol" states that "no monuments or other above-ground features are allowed" in Cemetery Park. How has the city assumed the right to make such determinations with no input from the general public -- with no input from the descendants of the people who purchased the plots as far back as 1862?

Moreover, there are a few in the city who know exactly where the remainder of the discarded tombstones are located. It is time for those few to come forward and give the city, perhaps with the help of descendants, a chance to retrieve those tombstones. Another question: Why is it that no one connected with this 1960s "beautification" project is willing to step forward? Do they first need indemnity from consequences? If so, what does that imply?

Finally, what is to be done with the western 110 feet?

Before any consideration is given to further "renovation" of this area, it must be ascertained that there are no bodies buried there. Where else would the Chumash mass burial ground be located? The poor ground? The unblessed ground?

It is rumored, again by those who wish to remain unnamed, that bones were removed in preparing for the recreation center. The fact is that the recreation center was a failure from the start, a departure from the earlier recreation center located near the mouth of the Ventura River and heavily used by the youth of Ventura.

The cemetery recreation center finally had to be removed as it kept sinking; it was vandalized as well. What caused the rec center to sink? The water table? The ghost of Maggie O'Sullivan or her unmarked but excavated grave?

It would indeed constitute desecration to place a health spa (one of the city's proposals) over the heads of Maggie O'Sullivan and her sister "soiled doves," however humble those graves must have been.

As for Mr. Wehan's statement that the Catholic Church has, through the years, denied that the western 110 was used as a burial site, the Catholic Church today finds itself in the position of having to reverse many statements, to say nothing of practices of yesteryear. Who knows if the person/persons handling the sale of the western 110 in 1955 regarded "unblessed ground" as an authentic burial site?

As Larry Rose stated at the presentation to the Parks and Recreation Commission on Oct. 20, a person experiences three deaths: the day he dies; the day he is buried; and the day he is forgotten. The 3,000 buried in St. Mary's and city cemeteries have experienced their third death at the hands of the city of Ventura. It is incumbent, therefore, on the city of Ventura to revoke the death sentence. It was ill-considered, immoral and, according to informed sources, illegal.

Reconsider your priorities, gentlemen. Attend to the unfortunate responsibilities bequeathed to you by your predecessors -- or suffer the consequences.

-- Patricia Clark Doerner lives in Ojai.

10896 Creek Road, Ojai, CA 93023 • 805-649-1412 • PatCD@earthlink.net

 

 

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