Headstones in Old Byram Cemetery in Greenwich accidentally damaged by Parks & Rec workers


GREENWICH — Alex Popp had a nasty surprise when he stopped by Old Byram Cemetery last week.

Popp, the community caretaker who planned to mow the lawn of the old cemetery which dates to the early 1700s, found a number of damaged headstones.

“Unfortunately, several headstones were damaged. Several were chipped or bumped, and one was knocked over,” Popp recalled Monday. “Finding the damage was surprising and daunting.”

Popp said a lawn mower apparently fell on a headstone, which he reattached to his foundation. Some smaller stones in the cemetery, which appear to have been installed centuries ago as memorials, were also chipped.

Doing some detective work, Popp, a teacher at the Greenwich school, said it appeared the damage was caused by a work crew from the city’s parks and recreation department, which has been confirmed by the town hall on Monday.

Popp and his family members worked diligently over the years to bring the old cemetery back from the ravages of nature and encroaching weeds, and he called the sight of damaged headstones a step backwards.

The first tombstone dates from 1717. Members of the Lyon family are buried there, as well as soldiers of the Revolution. The burial of enslaved men and women associated with the Lyon family in the 1700s is believed to have been carried out in a site adjoining Byram Cemetery.

The cemetery has undergone extensive restoration in recent years, with city workers and volunteers making improvements to the small cemetery overlooking Long Island Sound. A memorial for the section of the cemetery that would contain the graves of the first colored residents is being arranged.

Joe Siciliano, director of the parks and recreation department, said he and department supervisors have already begun an investigation into what was wrong.

Siciliano said workers in this part of town were “seasoned”, so it was “pretty shocking” that the damage was done to old headstones.

“We understand what happened,” he said. “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”

While still in the preliminary stages of the investigation, the department would seek to repair any damage it could, Siciliano said.

“We will resolve any damage, as a result of our employees, that can be supported,” he said.

Popp, who lives near the cemetery, said he hopes to have a more in-depth conversation with city officials about the cemetery and long-term research and preservation, and to ensure that this will be the last time anyone thing will be damaged at the cemetery. Popp said the parks and recreation department has been very responsive and responsible in the past.

The volunteer caretaker noted that there may have been gravestones that were buried underground, and he wondered if they should be dug up and restored.

“How do we move forward? What’s the right protocol for damaged stones?” He asked. Popp noted that there may be a state grant available for ground-penetrating radar to examine the site thoroughly, although this may require local matching funds.

“I hope the city, with all of its departments, committees and commissions, will recognize the responsibilities of owning the property and create a clear vision of how to protect and preserve the cemetery for future generations,” Popp said.


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