CCMP receives major facelift

CALCUTTA – One of the most iconic and noticeable symbols in Columbiana County has received a major facelift through the work of businesses and dedicated employees.

Columbiana County Memorial Park, located on Irish Ridge Road, Calcutta, is home to the Gardens of the Cross, a large hillside crucifix visible by its shrubbery during the day and by the nearly 200 lights at night. Constructed in 1960, it is considered to many as a local landmark when traveling by plane and a sight to behold to those driving whether on state Route 11 or by the cemetery.

In the fall of 2017, the iconic cross received a major upgrade which included brand new shrubbery, brand new LED lighting and hours of dedication from the electric company, nursery and cemetery employees who, according to cemetery representative Becky Merritt, considered the project “a labor of love.”

“It meant something to them,” Merritt said. “They took a lot of pride in what they were doing.”

The upgrade of the cross was two-plus years in the making, took more than a month to replace and put together without disturbing the final resting places, and was covered through the cemetery’s Perpetual Care Fund, which serves as insurance to prevent neglect and decay of any headstones, artifacts and other features of the cemetery and was of no additional cost to families.

The large cross first came about in 1960 around the same time the cemetery, originally non-denominational, introduced its All Souls Section made at the request of the Most Rev. Emmitt Walsh, then-Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, and included the Stations of the Cross, a large crucifix and statuary.

When first constructed, the Gardens of the Cross were lined up with Yews (serving as the original bushes) and more than 200 lights that lined the cross. According to Merritt, while the lights were mostly white, occasionally the lights shone different colors, which all depended on the season and the occasion, and all changed by hand.

The cross now consists of 516 dwarf burning bush shrubs (referring to the same bush mentioned in the Bible) purchased through Pancake Lawn Care and 172 white-colored LED bollard lights purchased through and installed by Protech Inc.

Starting work in September, the cemetery’s maintenance staff of seven began work on the cross, including removing the old Yew shrubs while representatives from Protech lined up the lights, working to keep the outline of the cross as straight as possible. Crews would then bring in the new Burning Bush shrubs from Pancake Lawn Care, and also carefully planted the bushes along the cross as perfectly as possible.

While working on the lights and bushes, crew members continued to be mindful of those who are buried at the park, and particularly alongside the cross. Headstones that had some dirt or clay on them were brushed off by hand until it was back to its proper state, Merritt said.

“We had one worker who had a brush and would not leave until that marker was completely cleaned off,” Merritt said.

While working tirelessly throughout the month-and-a-half, there were some instances when work was halted — during funeral services, out of respect for the grieving families.

By mid-October, the new lights and bushes were installed, and now shine brighter than before as they are seen now, not only at the cross but also at the All Souls Section where new lights were also installed at the crucifix. The grass is expected to return to its full state within another year to 18 months.

Merritt said Pancake will continue to monitor the bushes in the event they don’t survive or if there are problems with them, and the maintenance crew will continue ongoing cleanups around the cross and markers.