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Grace Lawn Cemetery closed indefinitely

ELKHART, Ind. -- Two cemeteries in Elkhart County are literally crumbling into the Saint Joseph river and possibly losing historical grave sites.  

The Grace Lawn Cemetery in Elkhart and the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Bristol are both suffering from severe erosion problems and on Sunday night, the city of Elkhart took action.

“This is sacred ground,” said Kelly Anderson as she pointed to a nearby headstone.
“This is our heritage. How could they let it go for so long?”

Anderson is an Elkhart resident and is the catalyst for change here at Grace Lawn Cemetery.

“The ground is sliding and there are body fragments coming out,” Anderson implored. “And they’re not doing anything about it.”

Anderson was walking along the river with her husband last week, when she noticed severe landslides from the cemetery and what she says were bone fragments.

“As we started walking along we noticed what is known to be, or what could be, a bone fragment of a finger or a toe bone.”

Anderson notified police who made their own analysis.

“We were out here yesterday,” explained Tim Balyeat, Assistant Chief for Elkhart Police Department. “We walked along the whole area. We have found no exposed graves, no exposed bones. Nothing.”

But regardless of the bones, Anderson and police agree on one thing.

“We have a nasty erosion problem that’s getting fairly close to the vault lines,” said Balyeat.

“How would you feel if one of your family members, or you, went on ancestry.com and said, ‘hey this is where my family member is,’ and knowing they’re just being washed away down into the river bank” said Anderson. 

Police have been diligently patrolling the cemetery to keep people from climbing the steep river bank, but it wasn’t enough and on Sunday, while ABC 57 was at the cemetery, the City of Elkhart took action.

“We’re afraid somebody is going to get hurt. So by order of the mayor- tonight- Grace Lawn Cemetery is closed,” said Balyeat. 

But for Anderson, the city’s actions are still too little too late.

“It’s just negligence. They’ve known about it so long. And they have the funding.”

ABC 57 also briefly spoke with Councilman Troyer who said the council has been working on this project for about 5 months and so far, engineers have conducted a survey of the erosion and the city will continue to find a solution.

Until the cemetery is opened, Mayor Moore says anyone who needs access to Grace Lawn should contact the cemetery directly. 

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