LEONARDTOWN, Md. – Diana Casoni’s grave at Charles Memorial Gardens looks pretty bare these days. Since the Navy veteran and former president of the Hollywood VRS Auxiliary passed away in 2016, her family has carefully tended her grave, placing flowers, flags, and other keepsakes at the site.

Greg Casoni, her husband of 35 years, said the family switched the decorations out seasonally. At one point, Mrs. Casoni’s veteran’s plaque was edged with brick surrounded by decorative white gravel. There were even solar powered lights to keep her grave illuminated at night.

Now, everything but the veteran’s plaque is gone from the ground and her husband is heartbroken.

Ornaments and Landscaping Banned

Updated rules imposed by the Leonardtown cemetery’s new owner forbid:

  • stands
  • boxes
  • easels
  • pots
  • cans
  • shepherd hooks and rods
  • benches
  • glass containers
  • lawn ornaments
  • breakable items
  • valuable personal memorabilia
  • wood items
  • temporary grave markers after 120 days

Landscaping and fencing around graves are also now prohibited. Solar lights are only allowed between November 14 and March 14.  All holiday decorations will be removed within 30 days of the holiday.

Earlier in the year, the cemetery’s new owner, Wade Earnshaw, came under fire after video of removed Christmas grave decorations piled up on the ground hit the Internet.  Earnshaw apologized at the time but said the new rules were necessary for safety and proper maintenance.

Not Enough Notice

Casoni said he first learned of the rules when his daughter called him to tell him the brick edging was missing from her mother’s grave. The Hollywood Volunteer Rescue Squad member said by the time he made it to the cemetery, the decorative gravel was also gone. “I went up right away Monday and got the rest of the stuff.”  He said workers were already removing items from graves and putting them in plastic garbage bags.

“I stopped by the office and asked why they didn’t tell me ahead of time. They said they’d had a notice posted since June.” Casoni said he was also told a notice was placed in the paper. He doesn’t feel that was enough. He feels families should have been notified individually. Additionally, he said the office offered no explanation about the change in rules other than it was the way the new owner wanted it.

‘Tore My Heart Apart’

Casoni said he just doesn’t get it. “I understand wanting to take dead flowers and all. But why take the memorials.  I understand wanting to clean up but not that way.  Every site you look at was clean and neatly done.”  He said seeing his beloved wife’s grave bare is heartbreaking, “It tore my heart apart, it still does.If he wants to clean the place up, fix the road going in there. Fix that stuff first.”

He said he’s especially concerned about the removal of items from children’s grave and the ban on temporary markers after 120 days as some people might not have the money to purchase headstones.

Casoni feels he’s not getting the final resting place he paid for. “They changed the rules on us. They can’t care about loved ones at all to do stuff like that to us.  To just go around with plastic bags and pick people’s stuff up is wrong.”

Rules Are Misinterpreted

TheBayNet called Charles Memorial Gardens and spoke with an employee who did not wished to be named. The employee said the rules have been misinterpreted and that they only apply to items on the ground. “You can put anything on the headstone, on the base, in a vase, or in saddlebags. It’s just about cleaning up the cemetery and making maintenance easier.”

The employee also said staff members were facing harassment and threats from the public over the rules. We were told they were very busy at the moment and no one was available for comment as to the reasons behind the new policy.  

Mr. Casoni does not blame the staff at the cemetery. He knows they’re only doing their jobs. He just hopes the public outcry over the policy might prompt the new owner to reconsider it.

Back At Home

The family was able to reconstruct their tribute to Diana at home. Mr. Casoni reassembled the items from the grave into memorial  in front of his house.