Regional

Grave Concern!

Old cholera cemetery is a blight on MoBay’s Hip Strip, admits St James Parish Council

BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large Western Bureau cummingsm@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 17, 2014    

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MONTEGO BAY, St James

THE dead are no longer buried at the decades-old Cholera Cemetery on Montego Bay's 'Hip Strip', but those interred there must be turning in their graves due to the deplorable state of the St James Parish Council-owned facility.

A recent visit to the site on Gloucester Ave, which lies in close proximity to a number of hotels, revealed that the cemetery where scores of cholera victims were laid to rest, was overgrown, full of trash, paper and other waste, and scrubby tufts of grass struggled to survive.

In addition, the broken tombstones and unkempt trees, as well as what appeared to be human skeletons strewn on sections of the property, forcibly brought home the need for urgent attention to be given to the burial ground, which has the potential to become a foreign exchange earner.

The cemetery's existing condition, however, could soon become a thing of the past, as the St James Parish Council is now moving to rehabilitate the run-down burial ground, as part of its efforts to breathe new life into several of the parish's historic sites.

"The move is a way of preserving our history and bringing renewed awareness of how far we have come as a people," said Councillor Suzette Brown, who chairs the council's Civic and Community Affairs Committee.

Brown told the Jamaica Observer West on Monday that at last month's sitting of the committee, she highlighted the wretched state of the cemetery and stressed that attention must now be focused on upgrading that facility.

"It was recommended that the cemetery be properly bushed and cleaned and that repairs be carried on the broken vaults. It was also pointed out that the cemetery in its current state is a blight on Montego Bay's tourism strip," said Brown.

During the meeting, she added, Councillor Richard Solomone alluded to a proposal drawn up more than three decades ago, which sought to maintain the integrity of the cemetery, and to transform it into an oasis where persons could pay respects to their loved ones interred there. As part of the plan, concrete benches for visitors to sit were to be erected in the shade of the trees which covered the site like a canopy.

Brown said all the councillors in attendance at last month's meeting, including Solomone, Sylvan Reid, Deputy Mayor of Montego Bay Michael Troupe and Stanley Harris, who is the local political representative in which the cemetery falls, were all in support of the proposed upgrading of the old burial ground.

On Tuesday, Director of Planning at the St James Parish Council Trevion Manning, who was accompanied on a tour of the old cemetery by Brown, Reid and Harris, also stressed the need for the urgent rehabilitation of the facility.

"The cemetery is in a deplorable state. Some of the graves appear to be vandalised, the trees and grass are overgrown... it is really very bad," he told the Observer West, following the tour.

He said the council will within the next few weeks "put together a proposal," to the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, in a bid to transform the run-down facility.

"We definitely are going to find a way to upgrade it (old cemetery) so that locals and foreigners can go there and learn about our history," he argued.

Harris, for his part, said he will be undertaking a Labour Day project at the facility next month.

Meanwhile, Brown told the Observer West that the rehabilitation of the historic Dome monument in Montego Bay is far advanced.

"What is left there to be done is just the statue of a 'woman at the well' to be erected, along with landscaping on the terrain to the Barracks Road side, as well as the replacement of the zinc fence in the vicinity of the historic monument," she explained.

Work on the facility, which had been in a deplorable state for many years, began last year.

The Dome was erected in 1837 and is located at the intersection of the city's Creek Street and Dome Street. It was created to protect the head of the creek which fed the town's early central water supply system and became a major source of water for the area until 1894. Much later, and up to the late 1960s, the Dome provided an emergency source of water to householders in the area.

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