Good news for relatives of the 10,000 souls buried at Akron’s Mount Hope Cemetery: The city has filed paperwork to take over the place.
This is a great move — maybe not financially, but in every other sense, given the size and historical significance of the site. And the added annual expense (primarily mowing grass and supervising the sale and digging of the remaining 500 plots) is unlikely to break the civic bank.
As I first noted in May 2012, the private, 8-acre cemetery on South Main Street in Firestone Park had become a disgrace: weeds and grass 2 feet high ... random piles of brush, branches and dirt ... broken-out windows in the mausoleum ... not even a flag on the flagpole.
This at a burial ground created in 1846 whose earliest graves were dug for veterans of the Revolutionary War.
The caretaker at the time, Bob Heilman, attributed the woes to a drop-off in donations and volunteer help. But Heilman was a far less enthusiastic caretaker than his late father, James, who had keep the place shipshape for three decades.
Other than an annual burst to try to make Mount Hope semi-presentable for Memorial Days, Heilman wasn’t doing much of anything. And with everyone else on the cemetery association’s board having died, no one was pushing him.
The city took on that role last year. But at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday in September — six hours before he was to meet with a city official to try to reach an agreement on maintenance — Heilman, 62, hopped into his car with his girlfriend and bolted to Reno, Nev.
That left no caretaker, no association and, essentially, no owner.
Because the weeds were way over the 8-inch height that triggers a mandated cleanup by a property owner — or by the city at the owner’s expense — Akron workers unleashed a three-day grass-cutting binge immediately after Heilman’s departure. It cost $1,400; sending a bill obviously was fruitless.
A couple of months later, Heilman’s daughter allowed Akron Customer Service Administrator John Eaton to tour a small house adjacent to the grounds that had served as Heilman’s office and residence.
According to the lawsuit the city filed to acquire the property, the cemetery’s voluminous records were in disarray and the building had water damage and was heavily infested with fleas.
By this spring, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic had heard enough.
“I think it is extremely important to clear up the title issue so that the city’s efforts in preserving and maintaining the cemetery are not questioned,” Plusquellic said via email. “I also wanted our law department to file the action before the holiday weekend so that we could clean it up for visitors.”
City crews whipped the place into good condition by Friday of Memorial Day weekend.
Defendants in the city’s suit are the Mount Hope Cemetery Association (R.I.P.), Heilman (MIA), the Ohio Attorney General’s Office (just a technical legal wrinkle) and Summit County (owed back taxes).
The suit was accompanied by a successful request for a temporary restraining order that prevents anyone from messing with the grounds or the records. A hearing for a preliminary injunction is set for 3 p.m. Wednesday before Judge Christine Croce.
Don’t expect any resistance.
Nothing occurring in the courtroom will have any effect on the public making routine visits to Mount Hope — visits that soon should become far more pleasant.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.