Celebrating the Restoration of a Treasured Landmark — Mt. Auburn Cemetery Ribbon Cutting

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TOWSON, (May 14, 2012) --- Governor Martin O’Malley, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services’ (DPSCS) Secretary Gary D. Maynard, and a host elected officials, leaders of Mt. Auburn Cemetery, the United Methodist Church, Morgan State University, and the Abell Foundation gathered today for a ribbon cutting to celebrate the restoration of the treasured Mt. Auburn Cemetery. The cemetery is located at Annapolis Road and Waterview Avenue, just off Russell St. in south Baltimore.

The DPSCS Public Safety Works inmate-led effort to restore historic Mt. Auburn has been given a boost by the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation, which awarded a $90,000 grant that will fund inmate labor crews and equipment for another year. The inmates will be trained in landscaping and, eventually, in restoration of headstones.

“Mt. Auburn Cemetery is the resting place of generations of Baltimore’s African-American history,” said Governor Martin O’Malley.  “But until now, many of its stories have been covered and hidden by debris and weeds and trash. This clean-up project has helped restore, preserve, and save this cemetery.  Just as important, this project has provided Maryland inmates with meaningful skills that can help them reenter their communities upon release and helped create stronger bonds to community, state and country.”

Added DPSCS Secretary Gary D. Maynard: “Since September of 2008, 41 of our inmates have worked more than 2,400 days in this cemetery. They’ve cleared three hundred dumpsters full of trees, weeds, and debris. We had men working here who grew up right around the corner in Cherry Hill and Westport and never knew this was even a cemetery. Other men who knew what it was and disliked the way it looked. The fact that they could pay society back in such a meaningful way is wonderful.”

DPSCS began its Mt. Auburn effort four years ago, hoping to help transform the 34-acre cemetery, which has been overgrown with weeds that have virtually hidden it from view for decades. Inmate crews from the DPSCS Public Safety Works initiative cleared an estimated 150 tons of trees, shrubs, and overgrowth, making the cemetery visible to nearby neighborhoods at long last, and restoring a more dignified visiting experience for the families of the more than 50,000 buried there.

Mt. Auburn was one of the first burial grounds - and is the last remaining one in Baltimore - owned and operated by African Americans. Once known as “The Great City of the Dead for Colored People,” the cemetery has rolling topography that is very difficult to mow and maintain. The grant-funded inmate crews will concentrate on eradicating wild vegetation. Inmates will be specially trained in a number of areas, including setting headstones and helping to identify unmarked graves.

The grant-funded effort is a partnership between DPSCS, The City of Baltimore, and Morgan State University Center of Museum Studies and Historical Preservation. The latter will help identify lost and unknown gravesites, upon which DPSCS hopes to eventually have the inmates place headstones.  DPSCS will also work with the MD Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation to help train inmates.

The Mt. Auburn project is a perfect example of DPSCS’ restorative justice efforts, which allow inmates special training and job skills while they pay society back in meaningful ways. Public Safety Works places three to four hundred low-security inmates on important community projects across the entire state daily.

In the past three years, Maryland inmates have rebuilt playgrounds and parks; planted tens of millions of oyster spat; restored an orchard and woods at Antietam Battlefield; planted more than one million trees; and helped towns recover from serious flooding, to name just a few of the meaningful projects.

Maryland has the only program of its kind in the nation that puts incarcerated veterans to work in State veteran cemeteries, and one of only eight inmate-operated thoroughbred horse rescue farms. In addition, inmates have built park pavilions and campers’ enclosures; provided municipal crews for small towns; and cleaned blighted areas in Baltimore, Salisbury and other places.

Mt. Auburn is by far the single biggest Public Safety Works project to date. Four of the first five men to work there in 2008 (who are now out of prison) have had a successful transition back to society.