Memorial Day in Burlington: How one veteran’s comment led to a community cleanup of a historic cemetery

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BURLINGTON, Vt. – Each Memorial Day, Vermont’s cemeteries offer a quiet place of reflection for families of those who served, but when they don’t get the upkeep they deserve, it can be disheartening for loved ones and other visitors.

Gary De Carolis, owner of Burlington History Tours, brings visitors on a two-and-a-half hour journey through the city’s history, including the historic Greenmount Cemetery. He said during a recent tour stop, however, one veteran’s focus wasn’t on the history, because the cemetery’s less-than-stellar upkeep was distracting.

“We came in and he looked around and said ‘My gosh, it doesn’t look like this city cares about its veterans at all,” De Carolis recalled. “The grass was over a foot tall, you could tell it hadn’t been mowed in a year or maybe more.”

Some gravestones were completely hidden by overgrown grass. The final resting place of Ethan Allen and hundreds of soldiers from the Revolutionary War to World War II was being neglected, and De Carolis said the veteran’s observation resonated with him.

“You could tell he was hurt, I couldn’t let this thing go without doing something,” De Carolis said. “I called the city, I called the parks department, I called the mayor’s office, and when I did connect with those folks, nothing was going to be done before Memorial Day and that’s when I said ‘let’s see what we can do.”

So, De Carolis got to work planning an impromptu Saturday cleanup, and tried to get the word out to as many people as possible.

What he didn’t expect to see on Saturday morning was at least 30 volunteers waiting at the cemetery gates with lawnmowers and weed-whackers, ready to get the job done.

“They just went at it,” De Carolis said. “They started at the front end and worked all the way back… This is a large cemetery and they wouldn’t stop, I was worried about them!”

Some volunteers came back to finish the job Sunday morning, and also helped spruce up nearby Elmwood Cemetery. On Memorial Day, other volunteers were out cleaning gravestones, a labor of love that helps once again shed some light on the names of Vermonters who died in combat.

“My main goal is not to make them look new, but look readable so a passerby could look at it and try to figure out the story of that person, and maybe be interested in learning more about them,” said Jason Stuffle.

De Carolis hopes next time, it won’t be his job to clean up the cemetery. For now, however, he’s just glad the community answered his call to action.

“It’s made a huge difference, and I think we can all be proud that our cemeteries show the respect that veterans deserve who gave their life to this country,” De Carolis said.

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