Archive for Sunday, June 2, 1996


June 2, 1996


A huge mausoleum in Oak Hill Cemetery is in peril.

When a mausoleum in Oak Hill Cemetery was completed nearly 80 years ago, it was beautiful.

Bronze doors sealed the imposing structure. Marble-faced crypts provided security. Those who visited walked on a terrazzo floor.

But as time has passed, vandals and the elements have entered, and the mausoleum has deteriorated. No longer can descendants of the 68 people in the mausoleum use keys to come and go. They must first visit the cemetery office and have someone open the mausoleum for them.

And no longer is the mausoleum, which is on the north side of the city-owned cemetery, open on Memorial Day.

"I haven't been able to put flowers on my mother's grave for 10 to 12 years," said Curtis Dalton, whose parents, oldest sister and paternal grandmother are in the mausoleum. "For years, we just put flowers in front of the building, but that kind of got to be: Who knew it was for my mother?"

The list of names of those people whose remains are in the mausoleum contains many prominent early-day Lawrencians: Bowersock, Hill, Dalton, Fischer, Sutton, Dinsmoor, Hetzel, Bromelsick, and many others. About 20 of those have been moved to graves.

"It's a disgrace to the city of Lawrence," said Dalton, a Lawrence man who will turn 76 in about a week. "Those people don't deserve to be treated that way, even if they're dead."

But, as is often the case, money is the culprit.

A $2,000 maintenance fund was established at the time the mausoleum was constructed, and interest from that fund was to be used for maintenance of the structure. The city is trustee of the fund, but the mausoleum is owned by the people who bought into it -- or their descendants.

A check with the city's finance director showed a balance of only $3,024 in the maintenance fund at the end of 1995.

That's a pittance compared to the amount it would take to restore the mausoleum.

The city says the best answer for relatives of people in the mausoleum is to move those people to another final resting place.

"Somewhere in the future, what happens to that facility will need to be addressed by somebody," said Fred DeVictor, the city's director of parks and recreation. "The city really can't control what happens to it or doesn't happen, as long as there are descendants who would make the decision what would happen to that as part of that trust."

If relatives decide to move family members to other locations in Oak Hill Cemetery, the city will give them a break on costs associated with opening and closing a grave, DeVictor said.

"I think that's the only reasonable thing to do -- to tear it down," said Dalton. "It'd cost a fortune to fix that thing up."

Although Dalton agrees that people should be moved from the deteriorating structure, he's not sure his family should bear the cost.

"My primary hope, no matter how they do it, is that I can put flowers on my mother's grave," he said. "She's in jail."

Don Shaw, sexton at Oak Hill, sympathizes. But the city hasn't yet determined it could absorb the cost of relocating about 70 people.

"We all understand it takes a lot of money these days to live, and I can understand where they're coming from," Shaw said.

So the dilemma continues.

When the Ohio Mausoleum company of Gallion, Ohio, started construction of the crypt in 1915, the people who bought into the structure had every reason to think that interest from $2,000 probably would be sufficient for perpetual maintenance. The cost of a crypt varied from $125 to $160.

"I'm sure that was a lot of money -- then," Shaw said.

But it didn't prove to be enough money.

The front and roof of the 35-foot by 42-foot mausoleum is covered with Virginia creeper. Inside, paint is peeling off the ceiling where mud daubers have nested during the years. The louvers on one of eight small windows is out. What once must have been a magnificent stained-glass window is all but gone.

Although the white marble face plates, which measure 24-by-28 inches, are intact, some of the interior white marble has turned to dust. Several panels of white marble walls are buckling. But the floor is in good shape.

Several families have moved relatives out of the mausoleum, most of them to graves in Oak Hill.

About 12 years ago, after receiving a letter from the city, Justin Hill, 91, moved the remains of his grandfather, J.D. Bowersock, as well as his grandmother and two sisters.

"I moved them because the people at Oak Hill Cemetery told me I'd better do it, so I did," said Hill. "They said that the thing was going to pieces and said I'd better move them."

Should the city pay to have the remains relocated from the mausoleum? Answer the J-W Access question on page 2A.

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