Preserving the character of Shawsheen Cemetery was the underlying message Monday when David Manugian, Public Works Department Director, outlined cemetery policies and challenges at a meeting of the Select Board.
Topics were limits on monument styles, duration of decorations, and the overall atmosphere.
Manugian said the cemetery policies, last approved about six years ago, allow monument engraving solely by sandblasting. Etching, which can produce highly accurate, detailed reproductions of photographs, artwork, and design, is prohibited.
Yet about a half-dozen monuments at Shawsheen Cemetery have been engraved by etching, even though policy requires that all designs must be approved by the DPW.
“We found that sandblasting monuments preserves the overall integrity of the cemetery,” the director explained. Town Manager Sarah Stanton added, “Historic cemeteries do not allow etching for a reason,” which is “character issues.” Historic cemeteries in other area towns have the same restriction, she said.
The DPW director also cited the policy of an April 1 annual deadline for removal of grave decorations.
Items like shepherd hooks and statuary “make it very hard to equitably mow, weed-whack, plant new grass,” Manugian said. “We understand there are sentimental items – the DPW does not want to come and clean out things that have meaning to folks. But if we give months’ notice – the goal is to have an empathetic, thoughtful process.”
Manugian also continued his frequent calls for residents to refrain from using the cemetery as a venue for exercising or dog-walking. “We have been talking to the Trails Committee and other recreation groups,” he said. “The cemetery is not a walking loop. It’s very hard for mourners when you have organized groups going past.”
“All of this is public education, but none of this is fun public education,” Manugian said. “We are trying to thread a needle here,” maintaining consideration of folks and what they would like to see in a place of mourning.”
Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell added, “The cemetery is a public place – but also a very private place, a place of deep emotion.”