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RANT OF THE DAY: Myrtle Hill deserves better.
The local tourism office describes Myrtle Hill as “one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the nation,” sitting above “the confluence of the Etowah, Oostanaula and Coosa rivers.” Guests are invited to “come explore its six terraces and rich history – and visit the place where Romans rest.” Indeed, some 20,000 people are buried or interred there, now including the mausoleum added a few years ago.
Once the site of a fort, Myrtle Hill again is something of a battleground, this time over efforts to move the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest from a prime spot overlooking South Broad Street and South Rome to a location to be named later.
Just when and where — or even if — have yet to be decided. The city, for now, has exercised the initial Summerville Park option from a year ago — that is, say the decision is out of local hands, this time because of state law. (Thankfully, an option developed, sparring another hotel there). On Friday, what amounted to a public hearing was appropriately held on one of the grand stages of Rome and ended with no real resolution. The Community Development Committee, perhaps with citizens’ assistance, will study the true biography of Forrest — racist executioner or savior of Rome — and look at omitted black history as well.
We’re talking months here, if not more. And even after more than 20,000 online viewers and in-person guests heard city officials repeatedly say their hands were tied, a judge in metro Atlanta ruled a Civil War monument in Decatur could be moved because it was a public concern. Perhaps a legal option hasn’t been considered by the city of Rome or by either side of the Forrest debate as yet. The good news is they now have precedence. Plus, the city is represented by one of the top law firms in Georgia.
Another solution that has been recommended is at least shifting the Forrest monument to the Civil War section of Myrtle Hill — to which we’ve already heard “no room remains.” Maybe, maybe not.
And then “who pays to move it?” Another good question especially as we’re hearing more about pandemic economic fallout. The answer could be at hand: Since Myrtle Hill is a tourist attraction as well as place of rest, use tourism bed tax dollars to help offset a transfer. If we can spend to promote the tennis centers, why not improve a landmark that probably draws even more people to Rome?
But let’s go a little deeper on Myrtle Hill, namely current upkeep.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we circled the landmark in part to check on the Forrest statue’s fate. We were concerned about vandalism amid calls to “Occupy Myrtle Hill.” Our rounds were pretty basic: Turn off South Broad, onto Pennington Avenue and down Branham until back on South Broad again. Or the reverse.
What did we find? Two Myrtle Hills. The finally kept part fronting South Broad as well as Branham on the way into the country club, and then the part in the back with a rotting tree limb across the Sims’ family headstone; landscaping in need of serious grooming; bare spots; some deteriorating signage; and not exactly the sanctified landmark we heard so much about.
With so much attention right now on a monument, not the grave, of a controversial Civil War figure, what about the 20,000 people buried there? Do they deserve better perpetual care? Some parts of the cemetery that are closest to the residents seems to lack the most attention. The more public sides? Much nicer, especially with space left to sell in the mausoleum.
With so many eyes now trained on the Forrest memorial especially, how about getting the rest of Myrtle Hill in better shape as well. It reminds us of another government “oversight” in recent years: downtown parking. As we kept hearing so much about the wonderful options afforded by our parking decks, we likewise learned about rows of lights not being replaced, ongoing vandalism, the use of elevators and stairwells as bathrooms and overall safety concerns. Not exactly your tax dollars at work. How do you neglect a public investment?
And while the lawn care crews are taking care of what should be a given at Myrtle Hill, perhaps they, too, can look over areas that might be more suited to remember a man who’s history isn’t so much as being rewritten today but instead is coming under much more serious review.
Myrtle Hill deserves better, the surrounding community deserves better and those Romans resting there? They do, too.
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