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Area’s cemeteries, parks to be quieter on Memorial Day

ST, LOUIS – In normal days, visitors to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery on Memorial Day would see graves covered with small flags and a memorial program in the morning.

If anyone was buried, family members and others could sit in a commitment shelter for services that included the folding and presentation of a flag and the playing of “Taps.”

But COVID-19 has ensured that these aren’t normal times. The traditional covering of graves with flags has been replaced by a simpler “Avenue of Flags” at the entrance. 

The presentation of a flag and “Taps” and any other services also are gone, replaced by an uncomplicated interment at which no more than 10 family members are allowed. 

The changes may be unprecedented at the area’s military cemetery.

“However, these are unprecedented times,” said Artis Parker, executive director of Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

People will be able to drive through the cemetery on what normally is its busiest weekend, but things will be much quieter for them than usual at the cemetery on Memorial Day. 

The city’s parks, too, are likely to be emptier this weekend. The city has canceled all picnic permits through the end of May, said Kim Haegele, city parks commissioner. And rain is forecast for Memorial Day, which may curtail impromptu outdoor excursions, Haegele said. 

Parks themselves are open, even though roads through some of the biggest ones are closed. The city is encouraging people to visit the parks, but to continue practicing social distancing while there.

Bellefontaine Cemetery
At Bellefontaine Cemetery, meanwhile, there could actually be an increase in traffic, said Dan Fuller, a volunteer there and the cemetery’s events coordinator. He said that parks were overloaded right now and that people might instead go to places such as Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Since the middle of March, the park has had 3,000 visitors. By contrast, about 8,000 people took tours over the last 12 months. Two reasons for the increase is that it’s a center of both history and horticulture. 

“It’s definitely accelerated,” Fuller said. “We’ll definitely see an uptick for the Memorial Day weekend, but nothing drastic.”

At Tower Grove Park, the traditional concert by the Compton Heights Concert Band has been canceled, ”inasmuch as Tower Grove Park is closed to vehicular traffic,” according to its Facebook page.

The group has canceled the Sunday Francis Park series and is considering whether to hold its Monday series in Tower Grove Park. 

“The Band members have not been rehearsing for several months and may not be able to resume practicing any time soon,” the Facebook page said. “Can’t have a helpful rehearsal if Band members are sitting 6 feet apart and wearing masks!”

Tower Grove Park
Meanwhile, David Lauber, development director for Tower Grove Park, pointed out that people could still use the park.

“The park remains open and welcoming to all,” Lauber said. “The roads currently remain closed to vehicular traffic.

“We expect June to be a period of cautious reopening of the roads and some vehicles,” he added.

The closing of 11 historic pavilions and Piper Palm House robbed the park of an important source of money for plants, maintenance and the arboretum. Reopening of those will have to wait a bit.

Lauber said the public had always supported what the park had to do.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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