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Cemeteries not likely to be 'forgotten' in Iowa

Reporter: Kate Gross
Telegraph Herald
Dubuque, Iowa
Telegraph Herald
Date: 07/05/2005 Edition: Wisconsin Section: Tristate Page: a3
Story type: current Keywords: cemeteries

A California graveyard that contains the body of a former Dubuque Civil War
veteran has been paved over.


Dubuque native Dave Hoffmann was reading his Civil War magazine when he
came across something that shocked him.
A featured article in the Camp Chase Gazette told the story of the former St. Mary's and Ventura cemeteries in Ventura, Calif., where 40 years ago city workers carted away some 500 tombstones - many of which they used to fix a nearby earthen levy, turning the former adjacent cemeteries into a park."My first feeling was, God this has to be illegal," said Hoffmann, who grew up in Dubuque and now travels the country doing Civil War re-enactments."

As the avid Civil War re-enactor and history buff continued to read about the 2,298 graves on the grounds, he recognized the name of Maj. Gen. William Vandever, from Dubuque, as one of the people buried in the Ventura cemetery, along with at least 55 other Civil War veterans."I've known quite a bit about Iowa history and I recognized the name,"Hoffmann said. "My revulsion increased quite a bit."

General Vandever moved to Iowa in 1851 and began practicing law in Dubuque. He was a member of the 36th and 37th Congresses and became colonel of the Ninth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry in 1861. Vandever died in 1893 and then was buried in Ventura Cemetery.

According to Steve Schleder, an architectural restoration specialist from Ventura who is heading the movement to restore the cemetery, in 1955 the city built a recreation center and parking lot directly on top of several of the graves. The foundation of the center crumbled in 1970 and it was torn down, but the parking lot and grassy park area remain today."The cemetery is now a dog park where the graves of 3,000 of our ancestors are daily (expletive) on," Schleder said. "I was horrified when I found out about this."

Ventura city officials are debating options for the park, including the possibility of constructing a memorial bearing the names of all those who are buried there.

"I think laws need to be changed, not only in California but I think Dubuque needs to re-examine its polices," Hoffmann said. "Could this happen in Dubuque?" Apparently the answer is "no." Thanks to several state laws and the Iowa Burial Protection Program, the cemeteries of Dubuque should remain safe from destruction.
"There are laws and they have just been strengthened," said Tom Alger, spokesman for the Iowa Insurance Division. He explained that a law recently was passed to classify the destruction of cemeteries as an aggravated misdemeanor, or criminal mischief in the third degree."The state law of Iowa requires you to identify where somebody is buried," said Roger Kurt, manager at Mount Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum Association in Dubuque. "I don't know how you'd do that without headstones."

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