Statuary to flowers: Town tightens rules on cemeteries

The Ridgebury Cemetery is at 655 Ridgebury Road. in Ridgefield.

The Ridgebury Cemetery is at 655 Ridgebury Road. in Ridgefield.

Carol Kaliff / Hearst Connecticut Media

No statuary, no crockery, no devotional lights. No grave blankets or sprays. Artificial plants or flowers are strongly discouraged. The town’s cemetery rules have been tightened up — considerably.

The goal is a combination of practicality and aesthetics.

“The cemetery is open to the public seven days a week from dawn to dusk,” the new regulations say. ”...Hundreds of people visit the cemetery each year, many visit on a single day. Because the cemetery is open to the public, it is very difficult to control the activity of every visitor. We regret that we cannot protect decorations from damage or theft...”

The Board of Selectmen approved the new regulations governing town cemeteries at its June 19 meeting, adopting without change four pages of rules recommended by the Graveyard Restoration Committee.

The rules apply in town-controlled cemeteries, including the Olde Town Cemetery and Mapleshade Cemetery in the triangle off North Street, North Salem Road and Mapleshade Road — adjoining three private cemeteries in that location — and also Ridgebury Cemetery.

The town is working to establish clear ownership of Branchville Cemetery, which it is now caring for in the absence of interest from previous owners.

There are also some smaller “pocket cemeteries” — off Nod Hill Road near Weir Farm, or off Route 7 near Simpaug Turnpike — where the rules might apply, although those cemeteries are generally regarded as inactive, and some are privately owned.

Room at the inn?

“When does the town run out of space?” Selectman Steve Zemo asked as the board briefly discussed cemetery issues before its June 19 vote.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi wasn’t sure.

“I know St. Mary’s has substantial capacity,” he said.

“Do they take non-parishioners?” Zemo asked.

Yes, Marconi said, St. Mary’s cemetery, which is off North Street and Copps Hilll Road, accepts non-parishioners.

Eternal resting places aren’t cheap. In Ridgebury Cemetery — a still-active town graveyard where plots are available — the prices run about $2,100 to $2,200, according to the graveyard committee.

Other selectmen asked Marconi why there was a rule against “grave blankets of sprays” proposed for the cemeteries.

“Most people don’t go back and get them,” Marconi said.

Rules and issues

Some of the rules are general: “Please use rubbish containers throughout the cemetery. Lots must be paid in full before a burial is made … Bringing alcohol beverages or illegal drugs into the cemetery is strictly prohibited.”

Some address issues specific to cemeteries: “A single grave site is approximately four feet by ten feet. Actual size of the grave is four feet by eight feet. In one single grave site you may inter: One casket, or one adult casket and one infant casket, or one casket and up to two cremains, or three cremains.

Headstones are subject to size governance, with heights limited to 38 inches and a range of base sizes — from three feet for a single grave up to six feet for a headstone marking six graves.

In the cremation sections of cemeteries, only flat grave markers are allowed — flush, approximately 18 inches deep, and three feet long for one grave, and four feet long for two graves.

Decoration regulation

Many of the rules address grave decoration practices.

“The cemetery reserves the right to remove all flowers, wreaths or other decorations from lots as soon as they become unsightly,” the regulations say.

“The grounds will be cleared of decorations twice a year. Spring clean-up begins March 15 and fall clean-up begins October 15…

“We request that families refrain from placing jars, bottles, styrofoam objects, crockery, statuary, cans or vigil lights on any grave.

“Devotional lights of any type are prohibited in the cemetery.

“Any other type of decoration we find objectionable or dangerous to our employees will be removed immediately.

“Grave blankets or sprays will not be permitted and will be removed.

“Artificial plants or flowers are strongly discouraged during the growing season…”

There are some separate rules specific to the growing season (April 1 to November 1), and the non-growing season (November 1 to April 1).

“The town of Ridgefield has the right to modify these rules and regulations at any time at its discretion,” the four-page document approved by the selectmen says. “The most current rules can be found at the website of the Town of Ridgefield:”