It is not enough for the pastor of Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church to decry the cost of cleaning up neglected Mount Auburn Cemetery. It is not enough to have an occasional clean-up day so volunteers can mow grass, pull weeds, pick up (( trash and chase away rats.
Sharp Street is responsible for the cemetery and Sharp Street should provide for the cemetery's perpetual care. But other churches and institutions should want to be involved. Mount Auburn is the first black cemetery founded in Maryland and an important part of state history. It is the final resting place for some of the most prominent African Americans to have lived in Baltimore.
The Rev. Bruce Haskins, pastor of Sharp Street, says the cemetery is no longer "income-producing." But there is an occasional burial there, and families sometimes pay to have a plot tended. That may not generate enough to keep the 33-acre cemetery in good shape. But its degree of neglect indicates that little has gone toward even routine care.
Two years ago, more than $26,000 was raised to improve the cemetery in Westport. But 6th District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes said it took all of that money to keep it groomed through that summer. The cemetery received little attention after that. That's a shame. Some of the money raised should have been used to start a perpetual care fund.
But it's not too late to begin a new drive with that goal. Certainly, many of the families with loved ones buried in Mount Auburn will want to be involved. Others who care about the historic significance of the cemetery should want to participate, as should the city and state. But the leadership to make sure this project doesn't become another one-time shot in the arm should come from Sharp Street, which owns the property.
There is no regulatory agency, either on the local or state level, that has direct authority over cemeteries. The city Department of Housing and Community Development did cite Mount Auburn for high weeds and grass, but only after complaints were made. Without the threat of inspection or sanction, other church cemeteries in Maryland, none of which are legally bound to provide perpetual care, are also in poor condition.
Perhaps the state should change that. Solace for the living is often only found where people have shared a final, moving experience with a loved one -- the cemetery. The neglected condition of burial grounds such as Mount Auburn mars such moments. The living and the dead deserve better.