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Controversy Continues Over Former Ventura Cemetery Now Used As Dog Park

VENTURA ( — A decade's long controversy continued Wednesday over whether a former cemetery in Ventura should remain a dog park.

St. Mary's Cemetery, located between Main and Poli streets, was turned into a recreational space in the mid-1960s.

The city removed the tombstones, but the nearly 3,000 bodies that were buried there remained at the grave site.

Cindy Southerland of Carson City, Nevada said her husband found one of the tombstones in a canyon in the '60s.

The headstone was for Edward Baker, a veteran of the Spanish-American War who died at 44 in 1913.

Southerland decided to take Baker's tombstone back to his hometown of Ventura.

"It's very important to me that the people who are buried here be remembered. They shouldn't just totally be ignored and lost because then their history is lost," she said.

Activist Steve Schleder from the Restore St. Mary's Cemetery Foundation was able to pinpoint where Baker was buried by looking at cemetery records, but the tombstone couldn't be re-erected because of the park.

"This isn't a dog park. It's hollow ground. Our pioneers are buried here. They deserve a lot more than they're getting," said Schleder.

Schleder said he will keep the tombstone at his home, along with several others, in hopes the city will shut down the park and turn it back into a cemetery.

The Ventura City Council, however, has no plans to do so.

"From the city's perspective, it's a park," said Rick Raives, the public works director. "That's how it's being utilized right now."

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