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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Baltimore County cemetery plans inaugural Easter egg hunt, but idea doesn’t go over easy for some residents

By Abigail Gruskin Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE – Celebrating Easter involves – at least at the Christian holiday’s core – confronting death. Resurrection can only happen after a person has perished, after all. But hunting for candy-filled plastic eggs near a cemetery?

“It’s just odd,” said Kelly Rutherford, an Essex resident, of a Baltimore County cemetery’s plans to hold an Easter egg hunt in the vicinity of the beloved gone beyond.

At Holly Hill Memorial Gardens, north of Middle River, Rutherford has laid loved ones to rest, including, most recently, her late husband, Terry, who died of brain cancer in 2020. The thought of kids running around to retrieve eggs on the graveyard’s grounds leaves Rutherford “appalled,” she said.

On April 8, the day before Easter – albeit on undeveloped land not “on or near” any “grave sites,” according to a description of the free event posted on Facebook – Holly Hill Memorial Gardens plans to hold the cemetery’s first hunt, starting in the late morning with candy, an Easter Bunny and prizes.

“Our intention is to bring the community together in a respectful and safe environment for children,” a communications specialist speaking on behalf of Holly Hill Memorial Gardens told The Baltimore Sun in a statement.

But the event’s announcement has elicited apprehension – and even anger – from a number of eastern Baltimore County residents.

Some haven’t made up their minds yet. Sharla Holland, who lives in Rosedale, took to Facebook to gather input from others, she said. Holland wrote that the event was “disrespectful,” but also noted that her late grandmother, who is buried at the cemetery, “always loved Easter and seeing the kids in their dresses.”

“If my kids (were) still young, I would probably take them just to see how it all plays out,” Holland, 50, told The Sun. But because the cemetery is a “spooky place,” she said, children might not be so eager to partake.

Rutherford, 53, first heard about the hunt from one of her friends. She visits her late husband’s grave at Holly Hill nearly every day, and it’s where her grandparents and uncle are also buried.

“My job is to make sure that my husband is honored and is resting peacefully,” she said – a sentiment repeatedly expressed by many of the posts on social media in response to Holly Hill’s announcement of the Easter egg hunt. Comments on the post have been restricted by Holly Hill Memorial Gardens.

Rutherford, who is Roman Catholic, said she’s reconsidering her plan to join her husband at Holly Hill, when her time comes.

Hosting an Easter egg hunt there is “tasteless,” she said. “It’s almost like, OK, well why don’t you bring in (a) circus and some carnival rides. Go ahead and put food trucks out there, if that’s something you want to do.”

She predicts the cemetery will already be busy that weekend with people paying their respects to deceased friends and family members. Rutherford does not have children of her own, but suggested that the egg hunt be moved to a “safer, more optimum venue,” like a nearby school or church.

There are a number of Easter egg hunts and themed events planned around Baltimore, including multiple this weekend and next in Essex and Dundalk, near Middle River.

To air her grievances, Rutherford called Holly Hill, who she said remained adamant that the event would continue as planned. She also said she filed a formal complaint to the Maryland Department of Labor Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing’s Office of Cemetery Oversight.

In an email to the Sun on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Holly Hill confirmed that the event is still scheduled, despite the backlash.

“Holly Hill has lots of green space within the park that can allow for respectful, family-friendly events without disturbing the peaceful environment our families use to pay respect to their loved ones,” the cemetery’s spokesperson wrote. “It is never our intention to upset or offend any client family.”

Ashley Fryza, who lives in Essex, said the event is a distraction from more pressing issues at the cemetery. Her family purchased four plots, including two mausoleums, for future use.

But parts of the cemetery, by her account, are in a state of disrepair: There are potholes in the roads that haven’t been filled over, “sinking headstones” and mausoleums in need of deep cleaning, Fryza said, adding that she also has a nephew and family friend laid to rest at Holly Hill.

Last summer, the vase for a headstone of one of her late friends was “run over by a lawn mower,” she explained – a situation that she claimed took repeated phone calls over a period of six weeks to rectify, so that flowers could once again be left there.

“There’s a lot more important things going on over there than Easter egg hunts,” Fryza, 38, said. “There are maintenance items … that are not addressed and need to be addressed before they waste money on these types of things.”

Holly Hill did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the condition of the grounds and on community members’ complaints.

Fryza used to take her children, who are now 18 and 21, to Easter egg hunts at local recreation centers and churches, including Central Baptist Church, where she attends services, she said.

“If there was an Easter egg hunt, it didn’t matter if we had already been to three of them, we were still going to go to the next one,” she said. “But I would absolutely never take my kid to a cemetery.”

“It’s morbid,” she added.