POYEN, Ark. – Cemeteries are places of remembrance and a way to connect with and honor loved ones that have passed.
For the community of Poyen, their graveyard is looking a bit emptier after decorations around graves were piled up and removed, including flags honoring veterans.
Neighbors visiting loved ones started to notice the missing memorabilia last week. Statues, lights, flowers and plaques were all taken from graves and lined up at the back of the cemetery, waiting for families to pick them up or throw them away.
Coulton Landreth was born and raised in Poyen. He says he was shocked when he heard the many tokens left at graves had been removed, something he says had never been done to this level before.
“I find that extremely disrespectful,” Landreth said. “In my entire life, I’ve never seen people removing flags and memorabilia off of graves.” What upset him the most was the removal of American flags marking the graves of veterans, items that had been pulled and stacked against a wooden fence.
The decorations were displaced on the order of the Poyen Cemetery Board, a committee enacted in the 1980’s operating separate from the City.
Carolyn Walker is a member of the board and says the rules have always been there as to what can be left at graves – they just haven’t been strictly enforced in recent years.
“All live floral and other decorations shall be removed as soon as possible after they’ve become unsightly,” she read, and added that items must also be removed from graves four days after burial. Walker says the flags had to be included in that rule in order to be fair. “I couldn’t leave them and take off everything else,” she said.
Walker explains that although items hadn’t previously been forcefully removed, a recent visit made her realize how crowded the grounds had become, making it hard to mow or weed. “It looked like a Fleamarket in that cemetery,” she said.
She claims a notice had been run in both local newspapers and announced at church services warning residents to pick up their items, but Landreth says it wasn’t highly advertised and not many people heard about the move. “No one really got that message,” he said.
For Landreth, the decorations and flags are more than just items but ways to remember and honor a lost loved one. He says they shouldn’t be treated like junk to be tossed aside, especially flags marking the graves of veterans.
“That’s the last connection you have to your family once they’re gone,” he said. “Why would you destroy that for somebody?” He asks that the flags be replaced in the future.
Walker says that they rules will be more strictly enforced from now on.