AG Koster checks on progress to restore Oak Grove Cemetery

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KPLR) - On Monday, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster toured a crumbling landmark in St. Louis, accompanied by families impacted by its deterioration.  Now Koster says more still needs to be done.

There’s no for sale sign, but Oak Grove Cemetery is officially for sale now.  The cemetery has been in owner Marilyn Stanza’s family for years, but it seems all the upkeep the once-majestic cemetery requires is just too much for her to handle.

“Marilyn is doing everything in her power to run a cemetery.  She has empathy for the people here, for their families,” says her attorney, Gerhard Petzall.  But families say empathy isn’t enough.

Koster explains, “When I am just walking the streets of St. Louis, complaints about Oak Grove Cemetery come to me as frequently, if not more frequently, than any other issue.”

Koster filed a lawsuit against Oak Grove in January.  He returned to tour the cemetery to check on the progress, and was disappointed: “It’s as safe as walking through a forest, I suppose, but there are limbs down everywhere.”

Families’ complaints range from dead trees, overgrown grass and potholes, to the crumbling, musty, moldy mausoleum.

Koster says the cemetery was once a point of pride for the region: “This is the resting place of Governor Caulfield, and the former mayor of St. Louis, Henry Kiel.  There is historic significance obviously for the city of St. Louis.”

The cemetery’s condition is heartbreaking for those who appreciate history and heritage, and for family members whose loved ones are buried there.  Mark Waldemer says, “We’re very grateful for what he’s done so far. If it doesn’t get any better than this, we’ll have to consider moving [our relatives].”

Stanza has made some repairs. The grass was recently mowed, and the mausoleum has a brand new roof.  But Koster adds, “There’s still standing water in there, there is little to no electricity and it’s difficult to find one’s way around.”

Also inside the mausoleum, the gilding has been repainted in the main entry. Still, not much is improved from last November, when FOX 2’s previous investigation aired.  The mold, chipped ceilings and animal traps remain. The air is humid and musty.  “Now it is time to drop the accelerator on this litigation and do everything we can to move forward,” says Koster.

The lawsuit is still in the discovery phase, so it’s not certain whether Stanza has the money to make all these improvements. If she can’t properly restore the cemetery, it will either be sold, turned into a non-profit, or at last resort, handed over to St. Louis County.