Grave Injustice

Do those who bury loved ones in Boca Raton's public cemetery have the right to decorate graves and erect markers? Apparently not.

Not all of them. Near the west side's front gate stands a refrigerator-size vertical monument of two gleaming white cupids frolicking above a black marble base. Burial date: 1997. This gravesite also lacks the extra surrounding space that Rogow mentioned as common to Section A. Just a few steps away, five turn-of-the-century tombstones crowd around the cupids. According to the city's concerns, the older markers could have been damaged during their baroque neighbor's installation. They weren't.

The city also cites safety as key in its quest to prohibit and dismantle all that stands upright. Perhaps rocks and other loose items might be sucked into lawn mowers and rain like bullets into the air, harming cemetery workers and landscapers. To date there is no report of any gardening injury incurred in either the east or the west side of the cemetery, but there have been instances where east-side graves were paid little heed.

Last May, Charlotte Danciu says she witnessed workers careening around the east side of the cemetery in motorized carts for no apparent reason. "It was almost dusk, maybe five o'clock. They rode up right over the graves, and then they went to the center and rode right down the middle of the grass, right over the graves as opposed to using the service road that goes around the land. If some people didn't have borders, they would have ridden right over their graves," says Danciu.

Little statues, big stink: Attorney Charlotte Danciu safeguards her grandparents' gravesite
Melissa Jones
Little statues, big stink: Attorney Charlotte Danciu safeguards her grandparents' gravesite

Historically the interred have not rested easily in Boca. Many buried at the city's municipal cemetery can rank their current ground as the third stop in a long jaunt that began in the early 1900s in one acre of land adjacent to the Boca Raton Hotel.

After the land was purchased by utilities tycoon Clarence Geist, those buried were exhumed and carted over to a patch of land near where Florida Atlantic University now stands. During WWII, the Army Air Corps decided their need for solid ground was greater than the cemetery's, and once again the dead were disinterred and trundled to where they now reside, not in peace but again in a battle for their sanctity.

In March a federal judge ruled in favor of the city and allowed it to remove all religious symbols from the gravesites of loved ones. The court contended that the vertical memorials on the east side weren't intrinsic or even required by the faiths of plot owners, although many testified to the contrary. "My religion and my faith are like the core of an apple that's inside of me," said Eleanor Danciu. "Everything I do is based on that." ACLU attorneys are appealing and indicate they're willing to take the case as far as it will go. Until then the east side's graves will remain intact.

Ironically the original trustees of the Boca Raton Cemetery would have sympathized with Danciu's and the other plaintiffs' plight. In a now yellow and brittle letter addressed to the people of Boca Raton, trustees offer the city's first cemetery grounds as a sacred place best left undisturbed: We intend to make a beautiful little park of the place and to care for it as long as we have friends there. The land has been deeded to us and can never be used for any other purpose…. Relatives can erect headstones and plant flowers as they choose.

Contact Emma Trelles at her e-mail address:

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