For the members of the Linden Hill Cemetery Association, the last three years have been like a surreal nightmare. In horror, they watched in 1978 as the owners of Frederick Memorial Park, the cemetery where their relatives are buried, allowed the cemetery to slip into receivership.
Then came mysterious new owners and, they felt, subtle pressure from those owners to remove the bodies from the cemetery so the 9.6-acre cemetery, set in a prime industrial area on a hill overlooking Frederick, Md., could be developed, perhaps as an apartment building.
Although the present owner, Richard Cody, says "it's just not true" that there ever was a such a plan, Geraldine Burger, head of the association, thinks a proposed bill before the legislature would be a nice insurance policy against any move to convert the cemetery into something else.
Members of association came to the second floor of the Senate office building here to talk about their travails and to ask the Senate Economic Affairs Committee to pass a bill that would make it illegal for cemetery owners in Frederick County to "solicit, entice or in any way encourage the removal of dead bodies from a cemetery."
The morbid-sounding bill was introduced by Sen. Edward P. Thomas (R-Frederick) at the request of association members.
"They said they couldn't find out who the owners of the cemetery were and that they had been getting pressure from the agent who ran the cemetery to move the bodies of their relatives," Thomas said. "The owners wanted the bodies out so they could use the land to build apartments and make some money. I thought the whole thing was horrible, so I checked into it."
Among the two busloads of Frederick residents who came here to testify were some of the worried survivors who, in the last three years, have moved nearly two dozen bodies to other cemeteries.
Thomas said his inquiry found that Skyview Inc., a Virginia based firm run by lawyer Jerome Friedlandler, was the owner of the cemetery near I-70 and U.S. Rte. 15. He also learned that Cody, the agent for the cemetery, had paid $13,000 to one Edward Buchanan, for rights to the mortgage on the cemetery in 1979.
"I negotiated the deal for Friedlander, yes," said Cody, who owns another cemetery north of Frederick. "But to say that there was ever any intention to have all the bodies removed is ridiculous."
Cody says he now has bought the land from Skyview (at a price considerably under the $13,000) and would like to turn the maintenance of the cemetery over to the association. "As far as I'm concerned, it will always be a cemetery," he said.
Frederick Memorial Park's history is a murky and unhappy one, dating back to the 1930s when the cemetery opened without a perpetual-care fund to ensure that the grounds would be cared for at all times.
In 1958, the cemetery was sold at a county treasurer's tax sale for $26.75 to Denver Shook, who owned and maintained the land until his death in 1971. His estate sold it and the ownership was something of a volleyball until the cemetery finally fell into receivership in 1978.
Since then, Burger said, only the volunteer work of the association has kept the cemetery from being overgrown by weeds.