Army Hero and Thousands of Others Buried in Dog Park

An 1860s army hero and about 3,000 other long-dead Ventura, Calif. residents are resting in questionable peace these days now that their former cemetery is...
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Military hero James Sumner's final (or maybe semi final?) resting place, which is now home to a dog park (Flickr photo: Stars4esther)

An 1860s army hero and about 3,000 other long-dead Ventura, Calif. residents are resting in questionable peace these days now that their former cemetery is a popular dog park.

“We are treating him pretty darn well, except for the poop,” parks and recreation commissioner Sharon Troll told the Ventura County Star.

In the 1960s, city leaders voted to remove the grave markers from a historic cemetery and transform the seven-acre area to a park, now just called Memorial Park. Then at some point the area seems to have become a dog park. (Major news agencies are reporting that it’s a dog park. I haven’t seen evidence that it’s an official dog park, but I’m deferring to the news agencies on this one.)

Although Coffins reside just six feet under much of the property, but only a few markers indicate where. (If you see a dog digging here, you definitely want to stop him.)

Descendants of the dead are angry, and veterans say it’s a travesty. The cemetery-turned-dog-park may not be as peaceful as it once was, but it's home (at least for its 3,000 denizens)

Pvt. James Sumner was awarded the Medal of Honor — the highest military decoration — for leading a chase to get back a settler’s child who was kidnapped by Apache Indians. His grave is now marked by a flag and an engraved flat stone, but most are not.

“Talk to any veteran, he will tell you it is a terrible thing. It’s disrespectful,” retired Marine Sgt. Craig “Gunny” Donor, a Vietnam vet who is trying to get Sumner’s remains moved, told the Star.

Others residing under the pitter-patter of pooch paws include William Dewey Hobson, the “father of Ventura County,” and Brig. Gen. William Vandever, who was a leader in the Civil War and a congressman. Ventura’s earliest lawyers, doctors, teachers and civic leaders are all buried there.

The lush, tree-dotted park is a magnificent swatch of heaven on earth, with splendid views of the ocean and the Channel Islands. Those who frequent it say that they feel lucky to be there, and that they treat the park well. According to the Star:

“It’s a beautiful memorial park, a different kind of park because living people come to have fun. I would think those buried here would like that,” said Jessi Burt, a 24-year-old park neighbor walking her boxer Ally.

Others jogging with dogs in the park say pet owners are good about cleaning up after the animals.

“The people who use the park are the most reverent, in my opinion. Sometimes, people will come up and pick up my dog’s poop before I have a chance,” said Beverly Karbum, 58, who was walking her Australian shepherd Roxanne.

Veterans’ efforts to have Sumner moved to a real cemetery were recently postponed by the park and recreation commission. Commissioners say they’re devoted to commemorating him and the other denizens, but there are no solid plans underfoot at this point.

It’s a coincidence that this story popped up just a few days after my post about cemeteries where dogs run free. Have any of you ever been to this park? Did you know you and your dog were trodding over old bodies? What do you think of the place?

Update:The park does appear to be only an informal, defacto dog park. Officially, it seems, leashes are the law. You can read more about it here.

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