Barren 'paupers' cemetery' run by county upsets families

Barren 'paupers' cemetery' run by county upsets families »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Families are unhappy about the final resting place for their loved ones in certain sections of historic Union Cemetery. The areas are old county graveyards for the poor, and the areas have no grass and no trees.

"I've never seen anything but tall, random groups of weeds growing now and then," Kristina Skidmore said. "And that's it."

Skidmore's great-great-grandmother was buried in one of these sections in 1928.

It's a shocking change from most areas of the cemetery in southeast Bakersfield. The rest of the cemetery has green lawns and a number of workers keeping things tidy.

But two corners of the cemetery are bare dirt with some grave stones, some small markers and at least some flowers.

"It's really creepy looking," Skidmore said. "It truly looks like no one really cares."

Union Cemetery manager Ruthe West said the two bare sections are county-owned. She said that's the reason the cemetery association can't put grass in.

"They won't let us," she said.

West has maps showing all areas of the cemetery. The section called West County shows 2,389 burials in one part, and another 1,610 burials in an adjoining area. In East County there are 2,684 burials recorded.

The two sections are now the responsibility of the Kern County Parks and Recreation Department. Director Bob Lerude said they just don't have the money to do more with the graveyards.

"I know since parks has had it, it's still the same issue of putting in turf, irrigation, and it really comes down to funding that," Lerude said. "We don't receive any revenue for that. It is a paupers' cemetery, so there is no revenue coming in like you have paying for a normal cemetery."

Skidmore said her family believes relatives did pay for the burial of her great-grandmother all those years ago. West could not find any record of that.

However, another family told Eyewitness News they believe relatives paid for "part of" the burial for their loved one in the old, county-run part of the cemetery.

Parks director Lerude said with the deaths of indigents now, the county only provides cremation, not burials any more. But, that still leaves the old graveyard and no good way to improve the areas.

Lerude said the county had talked about turning the areas over to the Union Cemetery Association -- the last time was about four years ago.

"We'd definitely be open, and have had discussions in the past with Union Cemetery. (We) haven't been able to come up with a conclusion because it is a funding issue, or it was at that time with them, as well, taking it over," Lerude said.

Lerude said his department will work with any groups or individuals who want to improve the old county areas of the cemetery. But beyond that, the county doesn't have money to do more with these areas, especially with the current tight budgets.

But it just doesn't seem right to Skidmore. This the final resting place for a lot of people, and she thinks it should look more respectful.

"Forget the large shade trees. Just grass, something that makes it look like human people were once here," she said. "It's really sad."