It's hard to imagine anything more personal than a small token or trinket left at a gravesite.
So when Haines City recently passed new rules and decided to clean up its public cemeteries, they had a dilemma – what to do with all the little things left at people's headstones that can often mean a lot.
To most, they might not seem like much. But, whoever left a stuffed Pooh Bear, a balloon, or a wooden cross on a grave at Forest Hill Cemetery - such items are often treasure.
Unfortunately, with so many loose articles left on the ground, it can be difficult to maintain the grounds.
“My plot is really neglected. I mean, it's overgrown. They're not even mowing it. It's really making me sad,” said Janet Davis, whose family plot was one of the first inside the city’s cemetery.
Davis has left a flag on her family plot.
But Tuesday, she saw a sign near the cemetery entrance, letting her and others know that this week Haines City would start enforcing a new policy at its municipal cemeteries. Removing many items left at gravesites.
“It should not be in the way of mowing,” Davis said of the American Flag she’s placed at her family’s plot. “And it should be left there. So I'll be a little upset if they decided to take that down.”
In other cities, where they’ve decided to spruce up the public resting places, they sometimes set a date. And then, anything that hasn't been removed by that date is considered abandoned and thrown away.
Haines City manager Rick Sloan says they heard from people who considered that insensitive - even disrespectful.
0So instead, Sloan says they started a computer database - a digital catalog of who's buried where – and also any items removed from that gravesite.
“We're trying to do the right thing,” said Sloan. “Once it's collected, then it will be, you know, placed in a box or a bag, something of that nature. And then, there will be a label on it that says which headstone it came from so that they can retrieve it later.”
“If the city is going to bag it, and log it so that they can get it back, then that's a good thing,” said Davis.
The same database will also help descendants who return to Haines City years later who want to locate their loved ones’ final resting places. There are 14,000 burial spots between the city's two cemeteries.
Also, some items can still be left graveside. American flags and flowers - either in vases or mounted on headstones, are allowed.
“While we're trying to maintain a cemetery in a respectful manner, we are also trying to take care of the things that they left here in the past,” said Sloan. “We're just trying to do what's right, and that's what we will always continue to try to do.”
The city hopes its data-base will be finished within a year. Sloan says all items collected will be held for at least 90 days.