Wiscasset’s controversies over fences proposed to the then-Wiscasset Historic Preservation Commission were at least in part communication issues. The same goes for the town’s new fence controversy, the removal of the one around Ancient Cemetery. But the current upset does not have to mushroom.
As a courtesy, the town should have said, here, cemetery committee, is when the fence is coming down. Town Manager Dennis Simmons has fallen on the sword, at least rightly because the buck stops with him as manager, and maybe one part nobly, because it could lower any heat the selectboard takes for not telling the committee during a recent meeting. Either way, the town’s apology was swift enough.
Second, selectmen said months ago, the fence was coming down this spring; even I remembered it was planned; the discussion that ensued was about when and if to replace it, add some new feature, or do both. Since spring is near its end, the surprise would have been the fence staying up.
I remember Selectmen’s Chair Pam Dunning wanting to give the cemetery a year fenceless, to see what it looked like without one, in all the seasons. This, I get. Some of the most beautiful cemeteries are fenceless, with just the ground and maybe some signage separating them from the curb. Afraid dogs will urinate in it? Federal Street is dog-walking central. I never see a dog walking itself there, just dogs with people, and I have never seen them go up into the yards and do anything, so let’s respect Wiscasset’s wonderful, loving, responsible dog owners enough to know they will not cause a problem in the cemetery.
This just leaves the concern about vandalism. Vandals don’t respect fences or other property. So if they stop at the cemetery in the middle of the night, the only fence that might deter them would be so tall it would make the cemetery a fortress instead of the head-turning, quiet place that helps people appreciate history and the people who lived it.
Had there been a reminder the fence’s days were numbered, there would not have been the shock factor to see it gone. The town has apologized. Let the planning continue and see where it goes. In a year that began with an insurrection, still has COVID-19 kicking around the world along with cancer, depression, cyberbullying, in-person bullying and addictions, can we let the old fence rest in peace and, if you see trash around, or in, the cemetery after the Fourth of July parade or anytime, pick it up, with gloves on, and maybe nod to the gravestones in respect.
If something happens in the cemetery before a new fence, if any, is erected, it will not be because a lovely, tired fence was not there to fend it off. And if more people who mean no harm, and do no harm, are going in the cemetery, that is a beautiful thing.