Grave matter: Faux flower ban riles

Em Collier is really upset. The silk flowers on her parents' graves she faithfully changes with the season have been pitched, and she's been told straight out: No fake flowers.

Collier's father was buried at Buck Mountain Episcopal Church in Earlysville 27 years ago, and her mother joined him in 1995. An infant brother, Bobby, Collier says, was buried there 60 years ago.

When she went to retrieve her summer flowers and put fall flora on her parents' graves, she found the pink-and-white silk bouquet on her mother's grave missing. All that remained of the Father's Day/Fourth of July arrangement she had placed on her father's grave were two American flags.

"Some lady said she'd taken them off because they were an eyesore," says Collier. She says she doesn't understand why her flowers don't pass muster when her family members have been buried there for 60 years.

However, Doug Simon, trustee and senior warden at Buck Mountain, says the ban on artificial flowers is nothing new and was already in place when he became a trustee around 1986.

"We've told her time and time again," says Simon. "This is a private cemetery, and we have every right to have rules."

The church rules are natural blooms only. And if dead arrangements are not cleared off in a timely manner, "We'll remove them," says Simon.

Collier's mother, Alice Lee Dunn Marshall, was born and raised in Earlysville, attended the 275-year-old church, and bought 10 cemetery plots in the 1940s while her husband, William Marshall, was in the military service, according to Collier. Collier says she never heard about the flower ban until this year.

"Mrs. Collier claims she has 10 plots," says Simon. "She has two. She has no deed."

"My mother's house burned down," says Collier of the missing paperwork. "They're supposed to have a plat in the church with our section marked off."

A clearly exasperated Simon says, "She's not a member. She doesn't give money to the church. She has no documents and no legal rights. For all practical purposes, she's a squatter."

"It's really troubling to me," says Collier. "I just can't afford live flowers."

She wonders about the policies at other churches. At St. Paul's Ivy, "This question has never come up," says the Reverend Miller Hunter. Silk and plastic flowers join natural plantings in the Civil War-era cemetery.

Historic Emmanuel Episcopal in Greenwood just redid its cemetery guidelines in April and now forbids artificial flowers– at least as far as new plot-holders are concerned.

"People who've been here for three generations, we're not going to tell them they can't do that," says church secretary Janice Fischer, who describes some of the arrangements as charmingly eccentric.

"Our warden is taking his time talking gently to people," she adds.

And over at Grace Episcopal Church in Keswick, site of the annual Thanksgiving Blessing of the Hounds, artificial arrangements are allowed and removed only when they become old and raggedy.

"If they were faded and dirty, I could see that," says Collier of her arrangements. "This is really bothering me."

"I've explained and explained," says Simon. "Personally I think that woman has a screw loose. She's been calling up everyone and pestering the minister. We're going to get a restraining order. I've had it."

Collier wants other people who have relatives buried at Buck Mountain Episcopal to know what's happened to missing flowers of their loved ones.

"I know it's an old church and an old cemetery," says a distraught Collier, "but I should be able to put flowers on my parents' graves."

Buck Mountain Episcopal's ban on artificial flowers has kept Em Collier from putting silk sprays on her parents' graves.