Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
[Note: This article has been updated to correct information concerning actions by governing bodies.]
The new owners of Memory Lawn Memorial Park cemetery on East 19th Street are preparing to spruce up the cemetery grounds and align the grave markers, having already taken several preparatory steps in their long-term rehabilitation and reorganization plans.
Since taking ownership in March, an investor group of about nine people led by Irvine, California, businessman Henry Mayhew has repaired the water pump at a cost of $10,000, sold two parcels of the 34-acre property just east of the city limits and formed two legal entities. A nonprofit organization, Memory Lawn Memorial Cemetery, will own and manage the cemetery, and a for-profit corporation, Roswell International Products LLC, eventually will own and operate commercial enterprises on the property.
After seven years in a court-ordered receivership that followed a lawsuit against the former owners, the cemetery has been known in the area for its unkempt and disorganized nature. But many people, such as the lawsuit plaintiffs that included Mayhew, have a concern for the cemetery as the resting place of their loved ones and some influential Roswell citizens. The City of Roswell voted against a proposal to take over the cemetery before Mayhew’s group stepped up, while county staff had informally discussed a take over with the cemetery’s former owner without the matter ever coming to county officials for a decision. Mayhew’s father spent some of his youth in Roswell and at the New Mexico Military Institute, and Mayhew has family members buried at Memory Lawn.
The years-long reorganization project, expected to cost about $150,000 to $200,000, includes making sense of 65 years of paperwork that has passed through six owners, said Curtis Michaels, the local liaison for the owners.
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He said the cemetery has 6,066 plots, with about 4,000 sold, although about half have never been used. So far, he said, he has gone through 1,285 files as he works to match the records with the headstones and unused grave sites. Part of that effort involves determining legal ownership of plots purchased but never used. Eventually all information about those buried will be available on a website, Michaels said.
As the work with records continues, the owners also plan this week to undertake the first major grounds improvements for the six-acre cemetery, which continues to function as an active site, with a burial about a month ago. The project to begin soon involves the aligning of headstones and grave markers in straight rows and elevating those that have sunk into the ground.
The removal of all grass, weeds, vegetation and other items on the cemetery grounds will begin this week. Owners have asked anyone with sentimental items at grave sites to take them home. Whatever is not removed by citizens will be collected and stored for a short time before the owners either dispose of or donate them.
Once vegetation clearing has occurred, grave markers will be aligned in straight rows with the assistance of global positioning system (GPS) to map the area, and cement “pillows” will be poured beneath the headstones that are sinking. Mayhew estimated 900 of the 1,300 markers need the cement cushion, which will cost about $60 each.
“We are going to have to move some of those grave markers, maybe two inches or six inches,” he said. “All we are trying to do is line them up.” He stressed that no coffins or graves will be relocated.
Mayhew foresees the project occurring in one section of the cemetery at a time. Once straight rows are created, walking paths will be made using various colors of gravel. When all sections are completed, landscaping will be done with indigenous plants, benches will be installed, and a display indicating where graves are located will be created.
Eventually, Mayhew said, the owners will remove dead trees and plant about 100 trees north of the cemetery as a wind, sound and sight barrier separating the cemetery from the other portion of the property. Over time, they also intend to build a fence and an entry gate to be locked at night, install security cameras, expand or improve the “spreading garden” for ashes, pave what are now gravel streets, create a parking area and replace or repair plaques or monuments.
He said one of the issues facing the owners is creating more inclusive monuments.
“It is not Christian cemetery. It is not a Jewish cemetery. It is not a Muslim cemetery. It is a cemetery,” he said. “We are trying to address the issue. In Roswell and to many people, as far as they are concerned, it’s a Christian cemetery. But we are certain that there are Jewish people buried there.”
He explained that perhaps religious passages shared by major religions could be inscribed on plaques or monuments in the future.
The final addition to the cemetery, he said, is expected to be a memorial wall with the names of all those buried in the cemetery.
At some point, probably in a year or two, Mayhew said, the group also plans to construct on about five acres of the property north of the cemetery the hydroponic greenhouse and the water bottling plant that will be part of Roswell International Products LLC. Herbs and other culinary plants will be grown and marketed through the greenhouse operation, while bottled and carbonated “alien” water will be sold by the water unit. The money generated by those operations will be used to cover operational costs and fund cemetery maintenance.
“Once it is all completed, the maintenance shouldn’t be all that much,” he said, explaining that it will rely on indigenous plants and a more natural type of landscaping than manicured lawns. He also said there are no plans to expand the cemetery beyond the 4,000 existing plots.
Mayhew said there have been a few criticisms from the public, but most people have expressed appreciation and gratitude. That includes the woman from Arizona who asked for the date of death to be added to her uncle’s headstone and provided a $10,000 donation to the cemetery in return.
“There have been super comments,” said Bruce Voss, the lawyer for the owners. “It warms your heart.”
Mayhew said that people might not have seen a great deal of visible change yet, but that work is occurring. “We work daily on this,” he said.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.