Community heartbroken after Portsmouth cemetery changes regulations to not allow decorations


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Joseph Smith comes to remember his loved ones buried at Olive Branch Cemetery in Portsmouth often. His father’s grave has a special touch.

“I made the cross because it all dropped all of a sudden. I didn’t have the money to buy the headstone my mom and dad wanted, so I made this stainless steel one,” said Smith.

However, now he’s worried the special headstone will be removed in a few weeks.

“The people who taught us the most and the most values out of life, and for them to be disgraced like that, it is really offensive,” Smith said.

Around Mother’s Day, multiple people told 10 On Your Side they started noticing signs put up by the city. The signs said no seating, no signs, no decorations, and no enclosures. Only cut or artificial flowers would be allowed on the graves starting May 31 — and anything left will be thrown out.

Cheyenne Perry’s mother was hit and killed by a distracted driver while she was riding her motorcycle. Now, the plot at the cemetery is her family’s safe space to remember her.

“It’s pretty upsetting because we made this bench for my grandma who can’t stand up to come out here,” said Perry.

Some cemeteries enforce these rules to keep them clean. 10 On Your Side reached out to the city for a statement explaining the reason behind the rules, but did not immediately hear back.

Ashlyn Casper who also visits her families graves here said if it’s cleaning they’re worried about, she and others are happy to volunteer their time.

“They didn’t even give us a chance to get a cleanup crew or anything together, and all of us rotate to clean it up. They went straight for ‘move it, dig it up, or else,'” said Casper.

These community members hope enough people will speak up and convince the city to decide not to move forward with this change.

They plan to come back May 23 to have a demonstration around 2 p.m. to show how many people will be impacted by this new city regulation. They’re asking people to simply stand in front of the graves of their loved ones on that day.

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