The historic Pocasset Cemetery on Dyer Avenue in Cranston has been a target of vandals and illegal waste dumping for several years. This past weekend, volunteers from the Cranston and Johnston Historical Societies, Smithfield and Narragansett residents, the Cemetery Commission of R.I. and others spent the day raking, cleaning and erecting stones that were tipped or broken.
“There has been illegal dumping going on right in the cemetery,” said Bel McGowan, manger of the Pocasset Cemetery. “We think it may be from a landscaper considering the type of debris left behind and stones have been toppled with vehicles.”
McGowan, looking on the bright side, said that at least they are dumping on the pathways and not right on the gravestones.
Still, much work was needed at the site.
“The dumping has been done repeatedly for more than a year and it's always right in the middle of one of the cemetery's paths and vehicles could be playing a part in the toppling of gravestones,” she said.
The Pocasset Historical Cemetery is the final resting place for approximately 300 gravestones, with more than half of them being veterans from the Civil War, World War I and World War II, Korean War and the Spanish-American War. With Veterans Day approaching, many veterans also came out to help clear the cemetery, which has been in operation since 1732.
One of the graves in the historical graveyard is that of John Edwards, the only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient buried in Cranston. Edwards was a captain in the Union Navy who fought in the Civil War and died in 1902. His grave is framed with crushed stone and bordered with garden bricks. A silver star holds a United States flag in recognition of this man who refused to go below deck aboard the U.S.S. Lackawanna as rebel fire struck his vessel during the Civil War.
The Kelly Gazzero Post on Plainfield Pike donated coffee and the glue needed to fix the broken stones, and volunteers spent most of their day working together and watching experts hoist gravestones back into place.
According to McGowan, police have stepped up patrols and are hoping to find leads, but the dumping has continued and the cemetery is in constant need of cleaning and repair.
“We are thinking about an automated gate to keep the illegal dumping away and preventing others from sneaking into the cemetery to do further damage,” said McGowan. “Since the cemetery is full, there is not much funding coming in to keep it in operation.”
The cemetery cleanups and repair services have always been donated, and McGowan said there has been a strong response when the cemetery looks for help cleaning up, including from the Boy Scouts.