PHOENIX — Ernest Garcia visits the graves of his grandmother and seven cousins nearly every month at Cementerio Lindo, on a dusty piece of land near downtown, because his mother told him he was in charge taking care of them.
“I was maybe 7, 8 years old. I used to go get the water from the ditch so the flowers would stay fresh as long as possible,” said Garcia, who is also a past commander of the American Legion Post 41.
The cemetery, where 7,800 indigent people were buried before it closed in the 1950s, has suffered from neglect since the early ’90s. There were tire tracks from vandals’ vehicles and the grass had long since been replaced by litter and weeds.
“It used to look like an empty lot,” Garcia said.
On Thursday, dozens gathered for the rededication of Maricopa County’s first cemetery, just north of the intersection of south 15th Avenue and Interstate 17, and the preservation of the final resting place for some of Phoenix’s first settlers.
From 1894 to 1952, Cementerio Lindo, Spanish for “Pretty Cemetery,” accepted the poor and predominantly minority pioneers who contributed to the early development of Phoenix, said Frank Barrios, historian and vice president of the Pioneers’ Cemetery Association.
“This is a great day because it provided us a chance to acknowledge and respect those families,” Barrios said. “It was the indigent cemetery, but it is no less important to honor the people who are buried here.”
The cemetery was deeded to the City of Phoenix by Maricopa County years ago. It became a forgotten place, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox said, but it was never forgotten by the families of those buried there.
“If we don’t remember where we came from and who we came from, how will we know where to go,” Wilcox said.
The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department provided around $120,000 for renovations that included a new iron and stone gate, a new archway and other general landscaping.
Parks officials say future improvements will hopefully determine where people are buried by uncovering headstones and create a memorial with a list of those in the cemetery.
Ernesto Garcia is just happy Cementerio Lindo is starting to look like a cemetery again, though he hopes there will be grass soon. He made the white crosses over his grandmother’s and cousins’ graves out of steel.
“I figure they would last forever,” he said. “Well, they’ll probably be here a long time after I’m gone.
“I just wanted to make it look like somebody cares.”