MANCHESTER, NH – Denise Ricciardi wants to know what the city can do about theft from Pine Grove Cemetery. Since September someone has robbed from her father’s grave three times, taking the potted plants placed there by the family.
“My father was buried there in 2011, and for the first four years we had no problems,” says Ricciardi.
They purchased an expensive pot that matched her father’s headstone and, every year on Mother’s Day, they would add fresh potting soil and a variety of seasonal flowers that would bloom until fall. Then, they would remove the pot and replace it with a decorative log for the winter holidays.
It made her mother happy to visit the grave and leave something beautiful behind.
“Last September was the first time it happened. My husband and I were in Italy at the time, and so my sister took our mother to visit our father’s grave, and when they arrived, the pot was gone,” Ricciardi says.
She immediately called the cemetery department and was told that they were having “a huge problem” of theft there, and that the police had been notified and would be stepping up patrols.
“The person I spoke with – I didn’t get his name – told me he believed the flowers were being stolen and sold at flea markets. I don’t know why he thought that, but that’s what he told me,” Ricciardi says.
She even met a woman at the cemetery last fall who also had flowers stolen.
“She messaged me later to tell me that she had been told the same thing, that someone was likely stealing them to sell at a flea market,” Ricciardi says.
Then last November the log they placed on her father’s grave, with more flowers and a decorative bow, disappeared.
“Two weeks ago I took my mother to church and then to the movies. Then we went out and bought a new pot – not as nice as the first one – and we placed it back on my father’s grave. My husband stopped by to water the flowers last Wednesday and by Saturday, it was gone,” Ricciardi says.
She called and left a message for City Parks and Recreation Director Don Pinard, who oversees the cemeteries.
Pinard said the call from Ricciardi was the first complaint he’s had about Pine Grove, although he knows first-hand that cemetery vandalism happens – and not just because it’s part of his job to know.
“It’s happened on my father-in-law’s grave at St. Joe’s cemetery, so I know it can happen. But honestly, this is the first complaint I’ve heard about anything like this at Pine Grove,” says Pinard. “And I’m not sure how to correct the problem. We don’t have an inventory of flowers placed on graves, so I don’t know how we could keep track, and we just don’t have the staffing to keep up with it,” says Pinard
Ricciardi feels locking the gate at night should be considered as one solution, or perhaps surveillance cameras.
“When we purchased the plot we were told there was perpetual care. It makes no sense to me that the cemetery is left open at night,” Ricciardi says. “Why is there no gate that locks? They have a sign posted for a curfew, but no monitoring? No cameras or surveillance?”
Caring for the living is hardly in the budget these days in the city of Manchester; finding money to secure the dead isn’t a likely scenario.
“Years ago there was a caretaker who lived in a house at the back of the cemetery, who was able to lock up every night. I don’t have people who work that late, so I’d have to pay someone overtime to go back and lock the gate,” Pinard says.
He’s not sure how many of the city’s nine cemeteries even have gates capable of locking.
But he agrees with Ricciardi, that theft is theft.
Ricciardi intended to fill out a police report, and she also shared her experience on Facebook, which drew dozens of responses – including from many friends who said they also experienced theft of items from the graves of their loved ones.
“I’ve heard from so many people on this, that’s how I know I’m not the only one,” Ricciardi says. “Maybe if more people complained or filled out reports then something will come of it.”
Pinard said it’s difficult to defend city parks against vandals. Valley Cemetery has been hit hardest, with vagrants, litter, damage and graffiti. But damage also extends to city parks.
“Some of the nice flowers we’ve put in Victory Park have been taken recently – three plants were pulled out of the ground and left there to die,” Pinard said. “We had one tree in Victory Park we found uprooted. Looks like someone tried to drag it away, and then just gave up.”
Giving up isn’t an option for Ricciardi.
“That’s all my mother wanted for Mother’s Day. It’s not so important to me, because I know my father isn’t there; but to her, he’s there. She likes it not being empty. She always wants something nice to be there with him,” Ricciardi says. “My mother is 82, and if she wants something there she should have it. It breaks her heart every time we go and it’s empty. I don’t know – you have to be pretty evil to steal from a grave.”