Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park:
A Cemetery for People and Their Pets
By Lynn Kusmin (HCHS 2023 Summer Intern)
The Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park opened as a pet cemetery in 1935 and today holds more than 22,000 animal graves. In April 1979, a successful petition to the Board of Appeals by the cemetery’s then-president, William A. Green, gave Green the right to bury humans as well as animals at Rosa Bonheur. Green testified that the bond between people and their pets necessitated the option of burying man alongside his best friend. Although Green’s victory made Rosa Bonheur the first recorded whole family cemetery for pets and people, his tenure there was not entirely happy. In the fall of 1996, “Howard County and 17 other cemetery clients brought … charges against … Green,” alleging he had “failed to deliver [not only] grave markers,” but also the remains of people’s pets. In early 1997, the Court ordered Green to pay out over $20,000, and by 1998, this number had climbed to over $85,000.
Green auctioned the property off in 1997, when its new owners, the Bonheur Land Company, reopened the cemetery in 1998 it was without the option of human burials. Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park closed for new burials completely in 2003. The cemetery’s troubles did not end there, however. Sonya Vatomsky notes in The Atlantic, that pet cemeteries, even those which also bury humans, are subject to fewer regulations than human cemeteries and are therefore vulnerable to development.
Those connected to Rosa Bonheur have had their share of concerns regarding this possibility in the years since Rosa Bonheur’s closure. A 2005 article in the Washington Post describes “persistent speculation that the burial ground will soon
be turned into a strip mall.” By 2013, developer Donald R. Reuwer, Jr. had won rights to the land and planned to incorporate some of it into a larger, mixed-use development, triggering protest by Rosa Bonheur volunteers, plot owners, and cemetery advocates. This development seems to have fallen through, but not curtailed further attempts to develop the cemetery, as in June 2016 the Howard County Historic Preservation Commission met to discuss Corridor Square, LLC’s plans to build an amenity area using 1.28 acres of Rosa Bonheur’s land. According to the Green Pet-Burial Society’s Whole Family Cemetery Directory, three whole family cemeteries remain in Maryland, in Timonium, Frederick, and Rockville.