JEFFERSON CITY — Mark Schreiber doesn't like to take visitors to the Old City Cemetery anymore.
For some time now, the condition of the plot of land has been a sore spot for the retired city historian.
"It has gotten to the point where I had some folks up there not too long ago who were historians from someplace else," Schreiber said. "Quite honestly, I was rather embarrassed when I took them up there.
"It has gotten to the point where I try to stray away from the place."
But last week, when fellow members of the local chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans pointed out to Schreiber what appeared to be a human jawbone lying next to what appeared to be a groundhog hole, it was too much.
The jawbone was only the latest in a long list of issues Schreiber said he has with the cemetery, which includes what he suspects is lawnmower damage to headstones, overgrowth surrounding older grave markers and brush that has been left on graves. Upon further inspection, the site showed evidence of trash and discarded lawn care materials, including lengths of string from weed trimmers.
When initially approached about the issues at the Old City Cemetery, Charlie Lansford, assistant director of community development, was unaware of the recent issues. Jefferson City owns not only Old City Cemetery, but also Woodland Cemetery and Longview Cemetery.
As Lansford reviewed the photo evidence of jawbone and the lack of care in certain areas of the cemetery, he became more concerned with the situation. The jawbone was Lansford's greatest area of concern.
"This issue, which I take very seriously, we need to take some action here immediately to correct this particular gravesite, without a doubt," Lansford said.
When shown photos of the bone in question, Lee Lyman, the chairman of MU's anthropology department, confirmed the bone was a fragment from a human jawbone and not from an animal.
Lansford said that within hours of being notified about the issue, the city took actions to remedy the issue with the bone. He also said that while the city and contractors have tried to handle the groundhog problem by themselves, it has reached the point that they may have to bring in a specialist to take care of the problem.
But Lansford said that the other issues also needed to be brought to the attention of the lawn care company the city contracts with for care of the Old City Cemetery, Lamberson's Lawn Care from Jefferson City.
Toby Lamberson, owner of Lamberson's Lawn Care, declined to comment because he is on vacation in San Francisco and did not want to speak about anything he could not see for himself.
The terms of the contract specify that Lamberson's is responsible for mowing, trimming around the headstones and removing limbs from around the property.
One of the problems Lansford said needed attention included damage to headstones. While it cannot be conclusively determined, Lansford said, there is a strong possibility the damage was the result of contact with lawn mowers. Lansford said the contract specifies that grass around headstones should be maintained with means other than lawnmowers, including trimmers and chemicals.
As has been the case with other contracts the city has had, Lansford said that if the terms of the contract are not met, the city has the right to terminate the contract.
Lamberson's Lawn Care received the contract for the Old City Cemetery this spring. Lansford said the city allots $20,000 annually from the city budget for maintenance of the city-owned cemeteries.
Typically, Lansford said, the city performs spot checks on the different sites that are contracted out for maintenance, with inspections occurring no less than once a month, but possibly more frequently if his department receives complaints about disrepair.
Since city staff was initially alerted to the issues, Lansford said he and other city employees have inspected the site and begun rectifying the problems, including working with animal control to keep the groundhog problem in check.
But, Schreiber said, he often feels like a broken record when he reports problems to city officials.
"If we don't show respect to those people who have gone before us, that were our first pioneer local residents, then the question is if we are really showing respect to ourselves and future generations," Schreiber said.