ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KPLR) – As our nation pauses to remember those killed fighting for our freedom on this Memorial Day, conditions at a north St. Louis County cemetery left local families who went to pay respects to loved ones devastated.
Oak Grove Cemetery was built in 1919, and serves as a resting place for thousands of influential St. Louisans. It used to be a place where family members were proud to bury their loved ones, but some say that’s no longer the case.
For 76 years now, Layton Breitweiser has spent every Memorial Day at Oak Grove Cemetery, paying his respects to family. Now, his son Neal comes with him too.
But this Memorial Day, the father and son could barely find their family plot. The headstones were shrouded in weeds, and covered with debris. Neal Breitweiser says, “This is what we set today aside for every year. So to come here and see my grandmother and my grandfather buried there, and with the weeds, it’s horrible. It’s just disrespecting our family. So we cancelled our plans, came back and did something about it, because we had to.”
The Breitweisers postponed their holiday barbecue, and went home to get their lawn equipment. The two spent hours cleaning up the gravesite themselves. “There were several other families doing the same thing,” adds Breitweiser.
It’s not just the hidden headstones that are upsetting to these families. Knee-deep weeds cover the cemetery’s rolling hills. Potholes fill the meandering roads, and large, dead trees pepper the lush landscape.
“It’s always been a place that you want to go in memory of your loved ones, but when you see them, it makes you sad that their gravesites are in such sad shape. They deserve more than that,” explains Terri Betts, who says she’s seen the cemetery go downhill in recent years.
Another family member, Alexander Oliver, adds, “I’m looking at this and wondering, what has happened, and why these people haven’t maintained the plot for our loved ones, which have went on to glory, and I am very, very upset over this after coming out here for Memorial Day.”
If the situation at Oak Grove doesn’t improve soon, the four generations of Breitweisers buried there might be the last. Breitweiser explains, “My father and I were discussing that today. He said to me, for the first time in his life, I don’t know if I want to be buried here. He’s supposed to go right there. And now he’s giving it second thought because, look at this.”
What’s most upsetting to Breitweiser is that when his great-grandparents purchased these plots, the plots came with a contract, promising that Oak Grove would care for their graves forever.
FOX 2 reached out to the cemetery’s owner, Marilyn Stanza, who took the cemetery over from her ailing husband in 1995. She insisted that the grass would be mowed later this week, but seemed overwhelmed by complaints and financial obligations.
Stanza said it would cost millions to fix the potholes and other issues with the cemetery, and if anyone has any suggestions or financial solutions, to let her know.