Controversy persists over of Parkville's neglected Oakleigh Pet Cemetery

Stately oaks tower over a patch of greenery in the center of Parkville. Below are rows of hundreds of tombstones for Shadow, Skippy, Bootsie, Little Bit, Prince and more.

Some have been tidied up, but most are lost in an ugly tangle of almost impenetrable brush and weeds.


This is the Oakleigh Pet Cemetery.

Many neighbors consider it a nuisance, but to one woman it's a work in progress.


Cindy Eisenrauch grew up virtually across the street from the cemetery and remembers strolling through its central lane almost daily when was still a going business.

"It was once a thriving, well-kept cemetery," she said. "When we were kids, this was a mainstay.

Eisenrauch has begun organizing what she hopes will be a series of brush-clearing sessions by volunteers, including members of the Maryland Air National Guard, to restore the 3.5 acres. She said no one is sure of the last time a pet was buried there, but she would like to see it become active again with the construction of pet mausoleums and a crematorium.

"If we go out into the community and put in some elbow grease, it will grow. Others will come in," she said. "I want this to be a prime example of what one person can do to create a snowball effect."


She acknowledges that neighbors are skeptical.

"Some say we're not getting it done fast enough. Well, we're getting it done for free" she said. "There's a lot to be done."

Among the skeptics is Mike Kaspar, president of the Ridgeleigh Community Association. He said neighbors appreciate Eisenrauch's cleanup efforts, but are getting impatient.

"It's damaging our area. It's damaging our property values," he said. "She's had this project for two and a half years and only portions have been cleaned up."

The owner of the property is John Williams, 58, a Catonsville resident, who bought the property in 2009. He said he wants to revive the property as a business with mausoleums for pets and a crematorium.

Does he have the financing to accomplish this?

"I don't have that kind of money, but we can get a grant. Or, I have other properties I could use for collateral on a loan," he said

The pet cemetery was a business for decades, founded by Alvin Seitz in the 1930s. Families took out contracts for burial plots and many erected striking headstones, some engraved with portraits of the pets. The property contains a now-vacant house for the owner and an office-shed that has gone derelict.

Eisenrauch said she believes a family that could produce a contract now would still be entitled to bury their pet at Oakleigh.

Growing up, she said, she whiled away many hours under the shade of Oakleigh's trees.

"My mother would say, 'Go to the graveyard and read. Come home when the lights come on,' " Eisenrauch said.

Kaspar said the neighborhood group wants to negotiate directly with the owner, but said all efforts to get in contact with Williams, including certified letter, have been unsuccessful.

Williams said he prefers that Eisenrauch speak for him and said he has sent a letter to Kaspar saying that.

"I think Cindy gets better results than I do," the owner said. "I don't want to sit down with people throwing stones at me."

Does he regret buying the property?

"I may have jumped too fast to the gun," he said. "But I'd hate to sell it to a developer. Digging all those animals up? It's a historic property."

Kaspar, meanwhile, credits Eisenrauch for making some headway with cleanup.

"She's doing these small, little cleanups, and that's fine. Whatever she can do to make it better, we have no problem with that," he said.

But Kaspar said Oakleigh's most promising future is to become a park or open space. He is dubious about Eisenrauch's plan to turn it back into a viable pet cemetery with mausoleums and a crematorium.

"Realistically, I can't see that happening. It would take millions," he said.

The two also differ over Oakleigh's most famous rumor — that Shirley Temple had a pet monkey buried there.

Eisenrauch said she thinks its true because Oakleigh had a nationwide reputation in the 1950s, when the burial is believed to have happened. She said she has evidence that at least two graves are for monkeys.

Kaspar's not buying it that a Hollywood movie star would pick suburban Baltimore to bury a pet.

"I can almost guarantee that's not true," he said.

County Councilman David Marks, whose district includes the cemetery, described himself as sympathetic to both sides. He was busy with a rake at one of the cleanups.

"Cindy and the community association both care about the property. I'd like to bring them together," he said.

Marks said the owner has incurred about $75,000 in code enforcement fines because of the condition the tract has fallen into, but that the county has offered to waive the fines if Williams restores it to a "respectable condition."

Marks said he has legislated on behalf of the cemetery, getting downzoning so it could not be subdivided and, in 2012, getting a bill passed to ensure reimbursement for families holding burial contracts if the cemetery ceases to be a cemetery.

Does the county have interest in acquiring it for a park? Marks said that is unlikely for now.

What about NeighborSpace, which acquires land for open space? Marks said the nonprofit is currently providing legal help in the issue and that it could conceivably transfer to them eventually.

"Believe it or not, there are plenty of places where cemeteries became open spaces," he said.

When Marks, a Perry Hall native, was 12 in 1985, he said, his family buried their pet cat Tuna at Oakleigh. Now, he has no idea where.

"We're one of the families that can't find our own pet's tombstone," he said.

Eisenrauch maintains a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SaveOakleighPetCemetery. Jim Jones, a cemetery expert who calls Oakleigh "the worst pet cemetery that I personally have been to," has posted a slide show about Oakleigh at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_wWmMWxnmg.

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