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Symbeline's avatar

What rights do abandoned graveyards have?

Asked by Symbeline (30528 points ) August 12th, 2012

I was checking out abandoned graveyards online yesterday, and I started wondering just exactly who is responsible for them. My guess is they’re probably like abandoned buildings, and are subject to the laws of whatever state/province/city it finds itself in. Is that about right? I mean, you can’t just go in them and do whatever you want just because it’s abandoned, like most abandoned things.
But some I found are in places where nobody even lives anymore, miles and miles away from any real civilization, so if someone went in those and messed around, most likely nobody would ever even find out. Maybe out of the way graveyards are under the same protection that abandoned villages or towns have? Can’t find much information about this on the Internet, although I admit, I didn’t do much of a thorough search. All the sites showing them weren’t really concerned with that.
I mean some governmental duty must look out after stuff like that, it’s history. I’m also guessing it depends on where you live.

Then again maybe nobody protects these. Some I saw online are so old and in the middle of nowhere that only hikers seem to come upon them, and share their findings online through pictures. One even had a church. So for abandoned graveyards, either in populated areas or wilder places, what kind of laws protect these? Are there any specific laws, since they’re graveyards?
In addition, if an abandoned graveyard actually has absolutely no laws protecting it, can anyone actually make a claim to it, or to the land it’s on? (I doubt it, but thought I’d ask)

I also don’t plan to go ruin an abandoned graveyard.

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14 Answers

wilma's avatar

They fall under some government jurisdiction, whether it is village, township, county or state. There are probably trespassing laws and of course property laws that cover them. Most cemeteries have rules that you are not to be in them after dark. If you don’t damage or vandalize anything then I am sure that you are welcome to visit the place and enjoy it at your pleasure.

zenvelo's avatar

In California there are desecration laws for vandalism in a cemetery. But there is no one charged with specific responsibility for a graveyard other than that for any abandoned and now public space.

CWOTUS's avatar

Here are some helpful partial responses (and other references that might get you exactly what you want) from The Straight Dope.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Illinois has a law that the state has to care for all graves. They can move them if they need to but xare of the remains is the responsibility of the state.

Growing up the graveyard across the street had a caretaker’s cottage. He lived on site to prevent vandalism. He was fond of rock salt in his A-5.

ucme's avatar

The right to rest in pieces?

GracieT's avatar

In Ohio they seem to have none. Last year we had a graveyard suddenly begin floating (it was both creepy and hilarious!). When investigating was done it turned out that a reservoir was built around an old graveyard. I can’t remember why this happened, but the bones rose to the surface. (creepy, no?)

Only138's avatar

Ever sneak into an abandoned graveyard at night and have sex? :)

Symbeline's avatar

@Only138 I did that in a non abandoned graveyard.

Only138's avatar

@Symbeline Pretty cool, eh? Cool ideas for date-night, eh? LMAO

WestRiverrat's avatar

@Only138 and @Symbeline Only cool until the caretaker finds you with his shotgun full of rock salt and his video camera.

Symbeline's avatar

Well, it is indeed trespassing, but we didn’t break or vandalize anything. Not that it really justifies anything, but if it was abandoned, I’m pretty sure that could be forgivable. Unless some phantom caretaker comes by…

GracieT's avatar

@Only138, the university that my husband and I both graduated from surrounds a graveyard. I guess we’ll have to plan a road trip! ;0)

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

The reason it has been so difficult to dig up (pun intended) any general information on this topic is that there are just too many If / And / Then scenarios. Here is an example: There is a small graveyard sitting in the middle of the parking lot at a Chicago suburb mall. So if the suburb laws stated one thing, the county laws were different, and the state laws required something else, then it would be a completely different ruling than in another location with a similar circumstance.

Symbeline's avatar

That’s a lot of what I was guessing…it must depend a lot on the location of the graveyard, and what laws apply to that piece of land.

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