Keeping Cemetery from Crumbling

By Matt Porter

New owners of the Floral Park Cemetery plan improvements and fixes to keep graveyard going.

February 18, 2013 Updated Feb 18, 2013 at 11:31 PM EDT

Johnson City, NY (WBNG Binghamton) New owners of the Floral Park Cemetery plan improvements and fixes to keep graveyard in disrepair going.

A non-profit board that currently owns the Spring Forest Cemetery in Binghamton will also manage the graveyard that's been the final resting place of local residents for more than a century.

Broome County historian Gerald Smith said the cemetery was supposed to remain a garden setting. The graveyard includes some of Binghamton's most famous -- and infamous -- residents.

"They built this brand new cemetery where it was going to be the new in-place to be buried once you were dead," Smith said.

The 122-year-old Floral Park has more than 13,000 permanent residents including Willis Kilmer who made millions selling a bogus potion called "Swamp Root."

"So he was one of our robber barons sort of scoundrels," Smith said, "And he insisted that his mausoleum, because there's 23 mausoleums here, be the largest one and on the tallest part of the cemetery."

The cemetery's residents include veterans from as far back as the Civil War, families and people buried by the county because they had no mourners.

Something historian Gerald Smith said would be a shame to lose.

"It's everything from the millionaires down to the homeless," Smith said. "And they all have their own story, and they all need to have their respect after they've left us."

Today, the cemetery has run out of millionaires to bury.

As funds dried up, the cemetery's fallen into disarray.

"People were moving away, weren't buying cemetery lots, cremation had sort of taken over," Smith said.

But new life may emerge as Peter Pappas takes over as president of Floral Park.

He's applied for funding from the state division of cemeteries, money that will be used to help fix a crumbling retaining wall, repair toppled stone and memorials and install proper landscaping.

"After our board is gone and time progresses I think there will be other people," said Pappas, "And I'm hoping to be instrumental in getting other people interested in perpetuating this cemetery."

He is also looking for other ways to raise money, including providing extra options for cremation.

Cemetery supervisors say they receive just a quarter of what they would receive in a regular burial when someone chooses cremation.

As a non-profit, Pappas is also pursuing donations as a way of maintaining the historical graveyard.

"It's just a matter of upkeep in general so that it doesn't become completely dilapidated," he said.