Accidental activists

A fight over Greenwood Cemetery's future wakes the living

"The idea that anything would be built right on top of those graves was just creepy and wrong," says Taliaferro. More people joined the opposition--including several residents of the La Tour condominiums across the street from the cemetery--and negative publicity about the proposed project followed. By early January, Columbus announced it would scale back its plans. The company instead decided to purchase only 2.7 acres of the land, on which no graves were found and which city records show had once been the site of buildings. On May 22, Columbus is scheduled to appear before the Dallas Plan Commission seeking a zoning change to allow construction to go forward. The development, according to site plans, allows for a four-story building no taller than 60 feet, and a four-story parking garage.

The additional 3.4 acres that Columbus originally wanted will remain untouched.

For now, that is. The section remains decertified, which keeps the door open for a developer to buy it in the future. And Marshall, who has led the cemetery association's board since 1988, has said there will be no move to recertify the potter's field as cemetery space.

"I think Judge Marshall's attitude alone about the certification shows that he doesn't have a real concern for what eventually happens to the cemetery," says Janicek, who attended the May 9 annual lot-owners' meeting with a long list of questions for the board. "I still want to know why all these apartments are going up in the shadow of a sign marking Greenwood as a historical cemetery. It seems more than a little ironic."

The sign Janicek refers to is an official state historic marker, dedicated and placed near the entrance to the cemetery in 1976. It describes Greenwood's genesis--founded in 1878 by early Dallas banker W.H. Gaston and named Trinity Cemetery. The name was changed to Greenwood in 1896.

Janicek, who attended the lot-owners' meeting with plans to run for the board of directors, says she was denied an opportunity to run because she had inadequate proof of her lot ownership. The cemetery's bylaws require the association's members either to own a lot directly or to be a legal heir of a lot. "Because I have other relatives who could also be considered heirs, I was told I was not allowed to run [for the board.]"

But she isn't close to giving up her fight on what she feels is best for the future of the cemetery--to be left undisturbed as a peaceful place for the dead. Janicek and others complain that in other, smaller ways, the cemetery maintains a general attitude of disrespect for the dead and the families who have placed them there. Indeed, along the back fence of the cemetery, a dog run with three Doberman pinschers--kept on site to deter vandals--sits directly on top of three graves marked with old and crumbling headstones. One of the graves is that of "Josie Berger, 37 years old." The rest of the aged inscription is difficult to make out. Berger's grave is topped with patchy grass, dandelions, and a healthy pile of dog feces.

"Those people buried where the dogs are, they're just nobodies as far as the cemetery's concerned," says cemetery preservationist Frances James. "I looked them up in county records. One was a well borer. One was a guy who made a living selling cotton-seed products. No one's around to speak for them. I guess it just doesn't matter that those dogs are just doing their business right on their graves.

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