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Howard County Council needs to consider history of Rosa Bonheur [Letter]

PetsArtMetropolitan Museum of ArtNAACPSmithsonian Institution

What is Rosa Bonheur? It is a unique, historic cemetery, established in 1935, off of Route 1 in Elkridge. Rosa Bonheur is named after the world renowned 19th-century French painter, Rosalie Bonheur, a lover of lover and painter of animals. Her works hang in many galleries including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Why should we care about Rosa Bonheur? It is said to be the first cemetery in the U.S. to allow people and their pets to be buried side by side. How big is the cemetery? Reports vary from 11-1/2 acres to 8 acres. The number of people reported to be buried there varies also — from eight to 20 people. The number of pets interred is in the thousands.

Again, why should we care? Because the Howard County Council votes this Thursday, July 25, on whether to grant a developer's request to re-zone the property for commercial use.

For anyone living in Howard County in 1991, this sounds terribly familiar! Remember 3-acre St. Mary's Cemetery, where the graves of several women and their babies, who had died and were buried in the 1800s, were plowed up by the back-hoes and bulldozers installing the county water and sewer line to access the two new houses being built on top of the cemetery! Ask the Howard County NAACP. They held a memorial service as the house foundations were being filled in. Many of the desecrated graves, whose bones were sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, were African American.

Soon after the cemetery desecration, Council Member Dr. Vernon Gray spearheaded an effort to write a new Howard County cemetery preservation law so that "this will never happen again." The state law, which had apparently been forgotten or ignored at the time, was also shored up. It is now Title 10 of the Maryland State Criminal Code.

That was 22 years ago. Have we forgotten? Some of us haven't. But do we want to remember? It looks like some of us don't.

Barbara Sieg

Ellicott City

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