The long-beleaguered Oakleigh Pet Cemetery could be the focus of one community's efforts to beautify their neighborhood if they are able to partner with other organizations on the effort.
The cemetery, located at 8408 Oakleigh Road, has been declining for about 20 years—headstones are broken, vandalized or misplaced and graves sunken in—and is a serious concern for residents who live nearby and those who have pets buried there.
About 35 people with ties to the property, either neighbors or property owners, attended a recent Ridgeleigh Community Association meeting regarding the cemetery, where they heard from "Bigg" Jim Jones of the Paranormal Research and Investigative Society of Maryland.
Jones, who has 40 years experience documenting cemeteries "from Maine to Florida and Maryland to Hawaii," told the group that the condition of Oakleigh Pet Cemetery is among the worst he's even seen.
"I've been investigating cemeteries and working with genealogy groups for a long time, I've been around a lot of cemeteries starting back almost 40 years ago," Jones said in a video interview with Patch. "Pertaining to the Oakleigh Pet Cemetery, it is probably one of the worst cemeteries I've been to ... this by far is probably one of the top ten worst that I've been to."
Watch the video interview with Jones, as well as YouTube videos Jones produced documenting the Oakleigh Pet Cemetery in the gallery attached to this article.
"This is what we're facing, folks," Jones said while showing photos of the cemetery that included trash and broken headstones. "It's a sacred place for crying out loud. What would happen if Moreland [Park Memorial] were allowed to fall into disrepair like Oakleigh? Sacred ground is sacred ground."
But Jones cautioned against blaming the state of the cemetery on its current owner.
The problems at the cemetery began long before current owner John Williams took over its management and called on those with a stake in the cemetery: neighbors, the owners, those with pets interred there and even government officials to work together to restore the burial ground to its original beauty, Jones said.
"Improvements to the cemetery will increase property values, make the community safer and increase quality of life," Jones said.
Ridgeleigh residents are concerned about expending effort to clean up the property because they think it could be sold to a developer as a result of tax liens fines levied by Baltimore County.
Since 2011, the property has been subjected to nearly $50,000 in fines. County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler wrote in an email to Patch that the fines are either for property cleanup or as a result of civil citations.
In fiscal year 2011, Oakleigh Pet Cemetery received to civil citations for $500 and $20,000, respectively, and two property cleanup fines $765.43 and $4962.81, Kobler wrote. Plus accrued interest, the total for that year is $31,388.46 and the full year tax bill with accrued interest of $5,709.93 is still owed.
The same is true for fiscal year 2012--2 civil citations for $500 each plus accrued interest and the full year's tax bill brings the total to $6,513.76--and 2013--the property received one civil citation for $1,000.
Councilman David Marks, who has passed legislation regarding the property and restricted the type of development on the cemetery's 2.5 acres, has said that the county has agreed tentatively to waive some of the fines against the property.
"I had a meeting with [deputy county administrative officer] Arnold Jablon, the cemetery's owner, and Cindy Eisenrauch [a Ridgeleigh resident] and during the discussion [Jablon] agreed to waive some of the fines if an effort could be made to improve the cemetery," said Marks, whose district includes the cemetery
"I think that [the fines] have been a real stumbling block. Tens of thousands of dollars have accrued over the years," Marks said. "I thank the executive branch for considering this."
Marks said he is looking to the possibility of organizing a community cleanup with residents of the Ridgeleigh neighborhood.
For their part though, Ridgeleigh residents aren't aware of any action coming up in the near future--though they're willing to consider the possibility.
"As we are unaware of any current plans to restore the cemetery, we remain very interested in partnering with community members and other organizations on future efforts," wrote Ridgeleigh Community Association president Bill Deysher in an email.
Deysher asked that individuals or organizations interested in helping with the effort to restore the cemetery contact him via email (email@example.com) or by phone at 410-350-5282.
Jones, whose Paranormal Research and Investigative Society of Maryland has a program directed at saving cemeteries like Oakleigh, has started a Facebook page for those interested in helping with the effort.
"There is a solution, we need to work together: the community, the owners, the land holders and even, at times the government," Jones said. "It's not that hard to get it back to a reasonable state of affairs ... it only takes one person to stand up."
Do you or someone you know have a pet buried at Oakleigh Pet Cemetery? Do you know an individual or organization that would be interested in helping to restore the cemetery? Tell us in the comments.
Editor's Note: This story contained an error in the spelling of the name of Ridgeleigh resident Cindy Eisenrauch. That error has since been corrected. Patch regrets the error.