A reader writes:
As Halloween approaches, there will be stories about miscreants stealing cemetery headstones and other acts of vandalism. One story you may wish to post is about the man who tried to steal a cemetery.
In the early 1980s, the owner of the small commercial property nearby attempted to claim Platt Cemetery as his own.
Until that time, Westport did not take responsibility for the maintenance of several non-active and seemingly abandoned cemeteries in town. The Platt Cemetery in particular was incredibly overgrown. In summer, only the tallest headstone spire could be seen above the vegetation.
The surrounding stone wall had long been pilfered of its best material. What remained was little more than a low pile of rubble tumbling into the Post Road.
No one had been buried there for generations, no one bothered to maintain it, and no one seemed to care.
However, it did occupy a nice location on Post Road West, and would have been of considerable value if not for the long-ignored graves. It was therefore a tempting target for someone to claim.
One view of Platt Burial Ground today …
Driving by one day, a member of a Westport board noticed the rear of the cemetery was being cleared by heavy equipment. The police were called, and the clearing stopped.
The owner of the adjoining commercial site claimed that he owned the cemetery, and was only doing maintenance on his property. However, since this
“maintenance” included pushing headstones and grave markers into a pile along with the brush and debris, essentially eliminating any trace of the burials, he was immediately issued a cease and desist order.
That night, a local television station broadcast an interview with the attorney for the commercial property owner, who claimed his client had a deed to the cemetery.
In response to outrage from numerous residents, the town attorney researched the title and found that the supposed deed did not exist. In effect, there was no longer a clear owner and it was essentially another abandoned cemetery.
The town could have prosecuted the property owner and contractor for a number of crimes, including trespass, malicious mischief, vandalism, excavation without a permit and desecration of a grave, but the administration felt it was bad publicity for the town and agreed to not prosecute if the damage was restored.
The uprooted brush and debris was removed, and the cleared area graded and seeded. Unfortunately, some of the uprooted headstones and markers were also removed, explaining why there is an open area in the southeast corner of the cemetery.
… and another, with the “empty” graves in back.
Although this was an unfortunate episode, a greater good did come from it, bringing to the attention of the town the plight of abandoned cemeteries in Westport. The town eventually accepted responsibility for the Platt Cemetery, and along with assistance from civic organizations rebuilt the stone wall, removed the encroaching vegetation and restored the site to a respectable condition.
Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department and the Westport Garden Club now oversee continued maintenance for both this and several other abandoned cemeteries.
50 years ago this week:
Republican First Selectman John Kemish and Democratic challenger Jacqueline Heneage engaged in a debate at the Saugatuck Congregational Church in front of “more than 100 senior citizens.”
Heneage criticized Kemish for “failing to pursue apartments long ago.” She proposed that Westport explore allowing “housing for the elderly by special permit.”
Kemish had served 2 2-year terms, beginning in 1969. Heneage won that 1973 election however, and was re-elected twice more. In 1977 the 1st Selectman’s term was lengthened to 4 years; she served from 1973 through 1981.
Jacqueline Heneage and John Kemish
(“Friday Flashback” is a weekly “06880” feature. If you enjoy it, please consider a tax-deductible contribution. Just click here — and thank you!)