July 13, 2017

"I heard everybody saying it needs to be cut, it needs to be cut. Why doesn't someone get a mower and cut it?"

Said 64-year-old Jordan Wenzel Sr., who has been fined $500 for mowing the lawn in Luther Parker Cemetery in Muskego, Wisconsin.
A sign outside the cemetery asks people not to mow. City officials want to keep the native wildflowers and prairie grasses on the graves like they would have been during the Civil War. The area is an official designated natural area and the municipality wants to keep it that way. But a Veterans group thinks the vegetation shows neglect. In April WISN 12 News reported on how The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War is suing the city for not taking care of the graves.
Here's an article from back in April about the lawsuit:
Under Wisconsin law, veterans' graves must "receive proper and decent care" from cemetery owners. The lawsuit filed in Waukesha County Circuit Court Tuesday is seeking a declaratory judgment on whether the way Muskego is caring for the cemetery is proper and decent....
"We'd like them to clean it up and honor these veterans' graves. [Homer Clark and Jonathan W. Smiley] died in battle. Their bodies were embalmed and shipped back home and buried there and we believe this is a desecration of their graves," [said Bob Koenecke, [leader of the Wind Lake chapter of Sons of Union Veterans]....

Muskego has never mowed the grass at the cemetery since taking it over in the mid-1960s; the land is considered a natural area that features Big Bluestem Prairie Grass, Indiangrass, Culver's Root, White Wild Indigo and Shooting Star wildflowers, Muskego city forester Tom Zagar said. To move the plants to another green area in the city would not be the same because it's a remnant prairie and not reconstructed prairie....

"It's unfortunate that they couldn't understand the important context of the historic vegetation around them. To wear the uniform was a tribute, the guns were a tribute, (and) we felt the plants were a tribute," [Muskego city forester Tom] Zagar said.

Which of these statements is closest to how you feel about this problem?
 
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ADDED: The cemetery is smaller than you may be picturing. Here are 2 pictures of the site I made using Google Street View from 2 different points of view:



59 comments:

Michael K said...

Additional choice: Who cares ?

Off to work. Have a nice day.

Chris N said...

Me and Starchild feel our long hair is a tribute to all the people who've lost their hair through natural processes, social convention, or the war machine.

Afternoon breezes lift our locks from our brows, as they do the Civil War wildflowers.

We are One With Nature.

donald said...

Cheap bastards. Cut the grass. Its 2017 fer crissakes.

Curious George said...

They're suing 50+ years later? Dismiss! And the old dude, jail him.

rhhardin said...

Wildflowers are weeds in bloom.

David Begley said...

Why does a city of 24,000 have a forester?

Humperdink said...

"Why does a city of 24,000 have a forester?"

Not sure. Maybe in a city, weeds are the new forest.

Sample Commenter said...

I wonder how much prairie has been plowed under for ethanol? But hey, let's impose our class values on this little piece on account of the chavs who provide most of the soldiers are too stupid to know how they are best respected.

Curious George said...

David Begley said...
Why does a city of 24,000 have a forester?

http://www.cityofmuskego.org/314/Urban-Forestry

Matthew Sablan said...

Civil Disobedience without suffering the consequences isn't really that.

I think the City should get the picture that people *don't* think this is a respectful way to treat the graves and change their policy.

Sample Commenter said...

http://www.investors.com/politics/commentary/how-the-ethanol-mandate-is-killing-the-american-prairie/

Let me Google that for you Sample.

Browndog said...

Since when, in the history of man, do we not care for our grave sites/cemeteries?

There is a growing trend among small town city managers to forego maintenance of public spaces, letting them "return to their natural state to save the Earth" as they put it.

Another way to put it: This bloated maintenance budget is keeping us from funding important stuff; like code enforcement and traffic cameras.

Paul from Decatur, GA said...

I am on the board of the Friends of our local cemetery. We are about to create a wildflower meadow, but the rest of the cemetery has been and will be mowed. Doesn't the city have other possible Prairie environment locations? Here with have a city arborist rather than a forester and the city and the cemetery were established in the 1820s.

Jake said...

Michael K said:

"Additional choice: Who cares ?

Off to work. Have a nice day."

I'm with you, but obviously there are some people out there with, apparently, nothing else going on in their lives that do care about this.

This does, to me, seem stupid from every angle.

Etienne said...

Simple: Move the graves.

You can't have both. Either it is a cemetery, or it is a garden. Pick one and press on.

This is why people should be cremated at death. My family has been Catholic since Peter was Pope, and we've always cremated our dead. If Catholics can do it, you know it's kosher with God.

Unknown said...

They should get some Bison to naturally mow the cemetery, like in olden times.

Curious George said...

"Matthew Sablan said...
Civil Disobedience without suffering the consequences isn't really that.

I think the City should get the picture that people *don't* think this is a respectful way to treat the graves and change their policy."

Really? A policy that's 50+ years old should be changed because some old dude mowed the grass and some veteran's group, who don't even live there...wants it changed?

rehajm said...

Ya know, you really don't want to move a cemetery.

Consider the juju. Bad, bad juju.

Darrell said...

Link goes to tornado story, Ann.

glenn said...

When I'm gone I won't care. Really.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Etienne wrote:

"My family has been Catholic since Peter was Pope, and we've always cremated our dead."

Really?

" In May 1963, the Vatican's Holy Office (now the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith) lifted the prohibition forbidding Catholics to choose cremation."

traditionalguy said...

It's far past time to memory hole the arrogant history of Northern Aggression. And hide away Hegs' statue while you are at it. They died because they trespassed at Chickamauga Creek leading armed Norwegian killers 750 miles from their homes. Just let the Prairie erase all that.

Darrell said...

A job an American did.
Thank you, Mr. Wenzel.

rehajm said...

Key question: What steps has the city taken to eradicate non-native species that may be growing? If the answer is 'nothing' they're just cultivating weeds, as has been suggested.

Gahrie said...


Let the people decide whether the cemetery should be mowed. Don't sue the city. If your idea of how to care for the graves is the best, it should be able to win in the political arena. If you can't get the majority of the people to want to change the policy, it shouldn't change.

And this applies to Atheists trying to remove crosses too.

Clyde said...

An interesting and complicated question. I went with answer 5, thinking that if this area has always been preserved as remnant prairie and if the original residents who buried their dead there had always done it among the wild plants, then keeping the cemetery in its pristine state is not disrespectful by their standards. Most cemeteries are not located in nature preserves, and thus it is proper to manicure the grounds. That's not the case in this situation, though.

Big Mike said...

I believe Wenzel should pay the fine. I'd like to know where I can send him a modest check to defray the fine. I think the members should be forced to mow the cemetery on hot days with hand mowers.

Ann Althouse said...

The link is fixed now.

That website has this thing of jumping forward to the next story if you stay in one place to long. I never clicked through to the tornado story. It pushed me through. That's a way of taking, rather than earning clicks.

Phil said...

"the land is considered a natural area that features Big Bluestem Prairie Grass, Indiangrass, Culver's Root, White Wild Indigo and Shooting Star wildflowers"

[sounds interesting]

[looks at photo]

Oh, you mean weeds.

Crimso said...

Someone I know (a faculty member at a small but prestigious liberal arts school in the South) is an expert on cemeteries (has written books about them, regularly gives lectures about them, etc.). He is by all accounts a scholar of cemeteries. His advice to anyone who suggests a cemetery be "reclaimed" (as opposed to maintained) is to do absolutely nothing to it. You will do more damage trying to fix it up than you will repair in the process.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

There's a similar, but more rural, cemetery a few blocks from where I live in Washington State. Perhaps 40 or 50 graves of late 19th century settlers. Many of the small headstones make a simple note of the Civil War service of the occupant. 5th Iowa Infantry, or something similar. Interestingly, two of the headstones note the service as Civil War nurses of the women buried beneath them. Despite the historical interest, it's a forgotten place, spooky to walk by in deep fog at night, and dependent on neighborhood retirees for the occasional mowing. Without fail though, on Memorial Day it's full of Little American flags.

David said...

Quite doubtful that the cemetery had native grasses and wildflowers during the Civil War. The American Cemetery Movement was in high gear well before the Civil War. The movement created cemeteries that were carefully tended and manicured, in the style of a park. Respectful use of cemeteries for park like purposes was encouraged. This was a nationwide phenomenon and pretty much the standard for cemeteries at the time. There were exceptions to this rule, but given the nature of the gravestones shown in the video, it's likely that this was a manicured and maintained cemetery at the time of the Civil War.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

He should have used a hand scythe.

Static Ping said...

I was always taught to ask permission before messing with things that do not belong to me. Sometimes an act done out of generosity proves to be damaging. The one that got drilled into me was to never close the trunk of someone else's car, the logic behind it is you never know if the person has left the keys in the trunk.

David said...

Here is Luther Parker, the cemetery's namesake, from Wikipedia:

Luther Parker (December 18, 1800 – June 16, 1853) was an American pioneer, teacher, politician, and Justice of the Peace of the Republic of Indian Stream.
Born in Temple, New Hampshire, Parker was a shoemaker and taught school in Coos County, New Hampshire. After his marriage in 1827, he and his wife, Alletta, moved to what would become the Republic of Indian Stream, where he operated a store. Parker helped to draft the Indian Stream Constitution and served as justice of the peace, a role that made him one of the primary leaders of the Republic of Indian Stream. In 1835, the Canadian authorities arrested Parker. In 1836, he and his family moved to Muskego, Waukesha County, Wisconsin Territory. In 1846, Parker served in the Wisconsin Territorial House of Representatives,[1] first as a Democrat and then as a member of the Free Soil Party. In 1851, Parker served on the Waukesha County Board of Supervisors. His son, Charles D. Parker, served as Wisconsin lieutenant governor. Parker died in Muskego, Wisconsin.[2][3]


Indian Stream was an "unrecognized free republic" created by Parker and others on the New Hampshire-Canada border. It is now the site of Pittsburg, New Hampshire.

David said...

Crimso, who is your professor friend? I need an expert in southern black cemeteries for a project I am considering.

David said...

And certainly the cemetery is not a remnant prairie. Invasives have long since taken care of that

Michael said...

Is it possible to mow the actual graves and maybe a path and leave the rest of the area alone? Maybe not, given the size and possible density. I would go easy on the mower (the first time) - that stuff will grow back.

Dude1394 said...

Go to the link, the gravesites look completely abandoned. I can see why anyone would feel they were not being maintained, because they are not.

It is a pretty clever way to get out of spending any money to keep the cemetary maintained however.

The city should be required to mow around anyone's grave whom someone with standing feels disrespected. It is not as if an area around a bunch of civil war soldiers is going to do damage to a bunch of grass. Unless they are saying now that we can not build because grass is on the endangered species list.

Earnest Prole said...

If he doesn't pay the price for his actions, it's not really "civil disobedience" now is it? And if we're not going to set cemeteries apart from nature, why not just chuck the corpses in the tall grass?

Gospace said...

If there are graves there- IT'S NEITHER ORIGINAL NOR REMNANT PRAIRIE! Why do I say this? There are graves there! It was all dug up and disturbed. It is reconstructed prairie, at best. It is a cemetery. And if not trimmed and mowed, is neglected, not a memorial.

The city is 100% wrong. And based on the very simple fact that the area was disturbed and dug up to dig the graves, every single person who testified that it is an example of original prairie should be prosecuted for perjury.

MaxedOutMama said...

State law preempts the local policy, so no, Mr. Wenzel should not be fined. This was analogous to those volunteers who sometimes go out and pick up trash along the sides of highways and in parks. I wouldn't call him a hero - just a decent man.

As for the city's claim that it is maintaining the cemetery the way it originally was, that is total nonsense. The area would have been maintained to keep the graves respectfully cleared and the ground accessible and visible, even if just a few volunteers were doing so. The graves would periodically be decorated, and "Decoration Day" started after the Civil War for precisely that purpose. So the city is entirely in the wrong, but clearly uninhibited about lying in court.

If they want prairie, they'll have to have prairie in a prairie area rather than a cemetery. The descendants/memorial groups have the right to visit, decorate and maintain the graves as is normally done. And the city cannot prevent them from doing so.

Looking at the Google images, I presume that someone locally prominent lives in that house visible in the one photo, and wants to keep the cemetery undisturbed for their own privacy purposes. Small localities are among the most corrupt political entities on the planet. And what the hell a little place like that is doing with a "city forester" is a burning question. They may own property they manage for the public weal, but this ain't it, and the guy should be ashamed of himself for slinging that BS. A plot of land that small is not "prairie" - it is not a prairie ecology at all. By definition.

gregq said...

"Let the people decide whether the cemetery should be mowed"

They did, when the State passed the law saying that veterans' graves must "receive proper and decent care" from cemetery owners.

When city goes up against State, city loses, just as when State goes up against Federal Gov't, the State loses. That is the order of our system, and I'm sure I can find plenty of laws you like that would be invalidated under the rule proposed above.

FWBuff said...

Another angle to this story is for those of us who are interested in genealogy and exploring cemeteries to find our ancestors' graves. A neglected, overgrown cemetery is a nightmare to visit and hampers the living who are trying to honor and remember our dead by recording and caring for their gravesites. Even in municipal cemeteries, family plots are owned by the families and their descendants, and we have a right to visit and tend graves.

Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Etienne said...

"In May 1963, the Vatican's Holy Office lifted the prohibition forbidding Catholics to choose cremation."

Before that, the church chose to cremate you.

Joan of Arc for example :-)

Quand je pense
Que j'ai donné
À la France
Mon sang, ma liberté
Et qu'elle m'a oubliée


When I have given everything to France,
My blood, my liberty,
This is the f'n thanks I get!

Thorley Winston said...


“I think the City should get the picture that people *don't* think this is a respectful way to treat the graves and change their policy."

Some people may feel that way, others may not. If you live in the City and want this fifty-year old policy changed then bring it up at the next town meeting to ask them to change it. Or support candidates in the next election who will change it.

Allison said...

You left off my choice. "Natural areas" and "native plants" are weeds. Horticulture is one of the finest arts of Western civilization, an undertaking of great effort. It was (and will be) a hardship to tame the earth. To purposely bear that hardship for the dead is a sign of deep respect.

When we allow native plants to take hold, we are admitting we no longer want to be civilized. There was no reason, then, for those men to die for a country or an ideal or to end slavery. Liberty is for civilization.

Crimso said...

David:
Email me at daburden at mtsu.edu. I'll give you his name and contact info, though I won't be back at my email until late this afternoon.

Lauderdale Vet said...

They say they're doing a thing to honor local vets, opinions of local vets be damned.

Ridiculous. Tar. Feathers.

Abdul Abulbul Amir said...

The city is just being cheap neglecting those graves. Letting the weeds grow is disgraceful.

David said...

Muskego has a population of about 24,000. That's plenty big enough to merit a forester and a forestry department.

What they need, however, is a forester who does not pose as an expert in the history of cemeteries, and has some idea of the actual nature of a remnant prairie. Their present forester is talking through his hat, and condescendingly to boot.

MikeD said...

"Remnant Prairie", another phrase for weeds!

Gospace said...

David said...
Muskego has a population of about 24,000. That's plenty big enough to merit a forester and a forestry department.

What they need, however, is a forester who does not pose as an expert in the history of cemeteries, and has some idea of the actual nature of a remnant prairie. Their present forester is talking through his hat, and condescendingly to boot.


No need to mince words. He wasn't condescendingly talking through his hat. He was LYING through his teeth, and since he testified to that lie, he's a perjurer.

Mark said...

It WAS natural prairie, past tense, but for longer than the U.S. has been a nation, it has been a cemetery. Allowing nature to reclaim the area is essentially to abandon it as a cemetery.

Darrell said...

Before that, the church chose to cremate you.
Joan of Arc for example :-)


English Protestants did that. The kind that say "2 Corinthians."

Steven said...

If there are graves there- IT'S NEITHER ORIGINAL NOR REMNANT PRAIRIE! Why do I say this? There are graves there! It was all dug up and disturbed. It is reconstructed prairie, at best. It is a cemetery. And if not trimmed and mowed, is neglected, not a memorial.

Exactly.

Josephbleau said...

The due care statute is unenforceable. The dead have standing only in Chicago. I think there was a voter I'd case where it was claimed that cemeteries were too far from D M V offices.

cyrus83 said...

If the city finds the location of the cemetery problematic, they should relocate it and rebury the dead. The local cemetery here was moved about a mile away to the edge of town a very long time ago seeing as the original location was both too small and inconveniently placed in the middle of "downtown" as it were. All the graves were moved and the original cemetery was then made a memorial park.