City may fund restoration, preservation of historic cemetery

The South Bend Common Council is voting on a resolution regarding the oldest cemetery in the city. It would provide funding for repairs and preservation of the historic cemetery on Elm Street.

South Bend's City Cemetery has been around since 1831. At first it was far west of town, but development has it right in the heart of town.

"The city kind of grew all around it, and it's kind of hidden back here right now,” said Steve Nemeth, South Bend Parks Department Maintenance Supervisor.

Hidden may be an understatement.

"It has been forgotten and overlooked; and it's the city's cemetery,” said South Bend Common Concilman Oliver Davis.

The City Cemetery is filled with famous people you may not even realize are buried right here; like Schuyler Colfax. He was the Speaker of the House under Lincoln and he was also the Vice President under Ulysses S. Grant.

Then there are other examples from that time period - from John Auten, the first St. Joseph County soldier killed in the Civil War - to one of the founders of South Bend. There’s even a Congressional Medal of Honor winner.

"I think a lot of people are not aware of it,” said Davis.

Which may have been a small blessing.

"At this point, it really needs a lot of work,” said Nemeth.

The cemetery has been victimized by the two things man can do nothing about - weather and time.

But it has also seen other challenges. 150 headstones were damaged in just one month last year.

"We've had a lot of vandalism in the last year or so,” said Nemeth.

If the vandalism wasn't bad enough, they have to deal with Godzilla, the groundhog who has made a home living amongst the dead.

"He's doing a lot of damage out here; huge holes,” said Nemeth.

"Hole after hole after hole! That was surprising,” said Davis.

Now, Davis is pushing for a council resolution that would set up a 5-year renovation plan for the cemetery and preserve this historic treasure.

"When you walk around, as we've done today, and you see all the different families and stories that go with them; it's an amazing place,” said Nemeth.

Davis' resolution calls for a 5-year plan that would provide budgetary funding for additional parks staffing.

He also says Godzilla has to go and they may have to pay to get rid of it.

The council will vote on the resolution Monday.


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