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August 5, 2002

They Finally Got It, It's a Cemetery!

Norman M. Covert

Two presentations were worthy of note after Thursday night's meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. The first was the calm presentation by Alderman David Lenhart on rules for the proposed invocation that will now start each of the board meetings. He struck a positive chord with the electorate and a 3-2 vote for passage.

The second presentation was by Chief Legal Services Officer Heather Price-Smith in support of a resolution to change the name of Memorial Grounds Park to The Reformed Church Graveyard Memorial Grounds.

Ms. Price-Smith should be commended for coming up with the proposal to rename the park as a means of blunting any attack from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its objection to the Ten Commandments Monument, now residing on the perimeter of the historic graveyard.

It took some months of pushing before the mayor and board finally got it through their heads that Memorial Grounds Park is a cemetery. They voted unanimously to rename the park, when actually the name "Memorial Park" was an appellation adopted primarily to fit in news columns. The veterans groups, whose fund raising and physical work have upheld the city and county 's pledge to maintain and honor the site, have been careful to use the name "Memorial Grounds Park."

It is important to note that we veterans always referred to the park's origins as a burial ground and sacred land at every Veterans Day ceremony and in every monument dedication in which we were master of ceremonies. Our programs reflected the name "Memorial Grounds Park."

Historian and former Mayor Paul P. Gordon and this writer have provided reams of information on the history of the park to both city and county governmental bodies. A quick read of that information reveals speeches by then Mayor Lloyd Culler and County Commissioner Dorsey Etchison, who on Nov. 11, 1924, accepted the conditions of transfer of the cemetery to the city and county. They also got the name correct.

A. Leroy McCardell spoke on behalf of the Evangelical Reformed Church, saying, "The young men and women whose names are engraved on the corner stone made a sacrifice worthy of the price demanded for the Hallowed Ground.

"As a tribute to them, Mr. Mayor (Culler) and Aldermen of Frederick, and County Commissioners of Frederick County, to you and your successors in office, I commit the care of the Memorial Ground.on condition that it always be maintained as a place of beauty, worthy of being sacredly held and cherished in the hearts of all the people of Frederick County."

Mayor Culler accepted the conditions, saying, "There are buried here the mortal remains of many of the early prominent citizens of Frederick, some of whom fought in the war of the Revolution.this land has ceased to be used as a burial ground and has been dedicated to our community as a perpetual memorial to the sacred dead. It is with a feeling of gratitude that I also accept on behalf of the city, this Memorial Ground.."

Ms. Price-Smith presented the history of the graveyard and quoted from the documents filed in the deeds at the Frederick County Courthouse.

She also discussed the covenants, which set the tone for the city and county to have the land. They were to maintain the sacred ground and erect a monument listing those who were buried in the graveyard. That was done she said, and that stone today sits adjacent to the Ten Commandments Stone, which was moved to the Memorial Grounds about 1985.

In 1998, the Ten Commandments Stone was relocated along the Bentz Street perimeter as part of the veterans' massive refurbishment of the grounds surrounding the beautiful monuments.

During that renovation numerous gravestones were uncovered and reburied along with a large lead vault topped by a beautiful marble covering. No remains were evident, as had been during excavation for the base of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1994 and 1995.

All remains and markers were reburied in accordance with the deed's covenants.

Preceding the vote to rename the Memorial Grounds, Alderman Bill Hall expressed his stern desire to stand and fight the ACLU, drawing praise from the audience and quiet assent from Alderman Joe Baldi and Mr. Lenhart. Alderman Donna Ramsburg and Alderman Marcia Hall both mouthed their concerns about "separation of church and state."

City Resident Bob Tansy, who demanded and received nearly 10 minutes to speak, vigorously rebuked Ms. Ramsburg and Ms. Hall for using a term that does not exist in the U.S. Constitution. He also urged the mayor and board to "fight" the ACLU.

Mizmayor, however, sought to tone the debate down by saying there was no need to fight, adding the resolution might help mitigate any challenge to the placement of the Ten Commandments Stone.

It mirrored the extensive debate over Mr. Lenhart's proposal to begin each meeting with a prayer. Misses Mayor, Ramsburg and Hall didn't want to "to offend anyone, but immediately offended the overwhelming number of residents and Alderman Bill Hall, who noted prayer had been a regular part of city events, including the recent swearing in of new Police Chief Kim Dine.

It was much ado about nothing, residents commented, but certainly the significance of changing the name of Memorial Grounds Park draws a line in the sand with the ACLU and the successful prayer resolution challenges the resolve of this board to uphold the history and tradition of Frederick County and our nation.

There may be hope for this administration yet.

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