LENOX -- Danger: Falling tombstones.
Following a report detailing hazards at the 242-year-old, town-owned cemetery behind the historic Church on the Hill, warning signs alerting the public that they enter at their own risk will be posted until repairs costing up to $45,000 can be made to 49 headstones identified as badly deteriorated and posing an imminent or potential safety threat.
The signs have been ordered and are expected to be delivered and set up within two weeks at four entrances to the cemetery, said Public Works Superintendent Jeffrey Vincent.
"The immediate need is to repair the stones with the funds that are available," Vincent said.
According to his records, 2,585 people have been buried at the cemetery, and no space remains available from the town, which also maintains two other final resting places, Mountainview and New Lenox. There are trust funds to help maintain the three facilities, he said.
To protect the town from potential liability if a visitor were to be injured, Town Counsel Frederica McCarthy and the municipal insurance carrier recommended that signs be posted with the message: "Enter at your own risk." At a recent board meeting, Selectman David Roche proposed that money be allocated to put up the signs as soon as possible. The Select men approved his motion unanimously.
Additional wording on the signs at public entrances to the cemetery will read, in part: "Warning, hazards may exist. Please use caution while visiting our cemetery. Visitors assume all risk."
The sign also would ask visitors: "Please pardon the appearance of our cemetery while it’s under rehabilitation. Repair in progress."
As Roche put it, the sign would convey the message that "if you walk in here, you stand a chance of getting injured."
According to Town Manager Gregory Federspiel, the hazards include headstones that are leaning or cracks that could potentially fall on a visitor.
During the winter, the town will prepare a renovation plan for a project to repair the stones, Roche explained. He said 39 of the 49 stones targeted for repair represent an immediate danger, while the rest are potential hazards.
The project, which would go out to bid, is expected to cost $40,000 to $45,000, Roche added.
But additional, future cemetery preservation could cost several hundred thousand dollars, according to Vincent and Federspiel.
Repairs and preservation funding would be sought through the Community Preservation Act, which covers historic properties. The town’s cemetery repair account contains only between $2,000 and $4,000, said Federspiel. Voters at the annual town meeting make the final decisions on approving community preservation projects.
Finance Committee Chair woman and Historical Com mission member Lucy Kenn edy called for a more visitor-friendly approach to the cemetery signs that doesn’t "make it sound like it’s radioactive," rather than a "skull and crossbones" tone.
The site is the final resting place for Revolutionary War figures, famous personalities such as Tanglewood founder and Boston Symphony music director Serge Koussevitzky, who died in 1951, and many of the town’s early settlers and oldest families.
The first burial recorded there, on July 3, 1771, was of a 4-month-old boy. Jonathan Hinsdale, the first white settler of Lenox who arrived in 1750, is also buried behind Church on the Hill, as is Maj. Gen. John Paterson, who served in Shay’s Rebellion and the Revolutionary War.
Kennedy described the cemetery as an "historic asset" that would live up to its potential with appropriate stone repair and landscaping.
Roche assured Kennedy that the warning signs would contain "friendly" language, ac knowledging the cemetery’s historical significance and urging visitors, as he quipped, to "pardon our dust."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 496-1003.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto