Billboards cause controversy on cemetery grounds - KMOV.com

Billboards cause controversy on cemetery grounds

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Many say billboards on the grounds of Washington Park Cemetery are disrespectful to the people buried there. Credit: KMOV Many say billboards on the grounds of Washington Park Cemetery are disrespectful to the people buried there. Credit: KMOV
Volunteers tend to the grass and weeds that have grown in Washington Park Cemetery. Volunteers tend to the grass and weeds that have grown in Washington Park Cemetery.
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -

Thousands of cars pass by the billboards along Interstate 70 just east of Lambert Airport each day, but many people may not realize the billboards are on land that used to be part of the Washington Park Cemetery, and remains are still buried there.

Parts of the cemetery are overgrown. Headstones are being swallowed up by weeds. Some are sinking into the ground. But Wanda Brandon said the biggest issue she has with the cemetery is the billboards.

“I want them to take their billboards and leave the cemetery, that's exactly what I want them to do,” said Brandon. “They do not show any type of honor to the dead and it's vile. I feel that they're pimping the cemetery and what I mean by that is they're using the billboards to make a profit at the expense of the deceased who are voiceless and we chose to be their voice.”

Brandon is one of the volunteers who help clean up the Washington Park Cemetery. Her mother and grandmother are buried in the cemetery, exactly where is not clear. She said they are buried in a part of the cemetery that is overgrown.

The owner says the part of the cemetery where the billboards stand was sold to DDI Media years ago. The company said for more than 30 years it's worked "in a respectful manner to support efforts to maintain the cemetery and honor the memories of those who are buried there."

The owner said DDI has done a good job of maintaining its section.

The cemetery is largely African-American. Brandon says this would not have happened if it wasn't.

“It's heartbreaking for me to see that,” said Brandon. “When I first saw it I said ‘what the?,' you know. These people have the audacity to disrespect black people, people of color.”

The cemetery relies on volunteer help to maintain the cemetery and the owner said any help is greatly appreciated.

Here is the full statement from DDI Media: 

For more than three decades, we have had three billboards visible from Interstate 70 that are on property owned by DDI where Washington Park Cemetery is operated. We have always worked to be a good partner, citizen and neighbor – working in a respectful manner to support efforts to maintain the cemetery and honor the memories of those who are buried there.

In the 1980s, operators of the cemetery were seeking additional funds. We originally leased and then – in 1986, based on a request from the owners of the cemetery – we acquired the land on which those billboards are located. Those billboards have played an important role in the cemetery’s ongoing operation for many years – with the full support and agreement of the cemetery owners and operators. We have often spoken with people associated with the cemetery – including the current owner – to discuss the work we have been doing to maintain our portion of the property. We invest thousands of dollars every year maintaining the portion of the property between and around our billboards.

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