Kern County's "Potter's Fields" are about to see new life. The cemeteries are where past indigents and the unidentified were buried. Now, the county has given the historic Union Cemetery permission to clean up and maintain the grounds.
Every day, the grounds at Union Cemetery are left manicured, pristine, and far different from the "Potter's Fields" they're next to.
Dave Hepburn is the General Manager at Union Cemetery. "This doesn't, to me right now, show a lot of respect and we want to show respect," explained Hepburn, standing in the one of two of the "Potter's Fields."
Hepburn says when the county couldn't keep up the land to their liking, the Union Cemetery Board asked to take over, and the county agreed.
The broken grave covers dating back to 1877, will be removed. Instead of the hard to walk on dirt ground, grass will be planted and irrigation lines will be installed to keep it lush.
Jose Leyva, the Director of Operations at Union Cemetery, says adding the extra three-and-a-half acres to his maintenance will be daunting, but is welcome to him and his crew. "You know, you figure 100 years it's been like this, so it's going to be completely changed," said Leyva.
5,500 people, either too poor to pay for their own burials or the unidentified, were buried in the lots between 1877 and 1977. Any marker with writing will remain, like a marker of the grave of a mother and her baby son found murdered in a canal in 1923. It made headlines then. They were never identified, but were laid to rest in "Potter's Fields."
"It's kind of like there were two different cemeteries, but this one never got taken care of. It was just a convenience for people to be buried in it," said Hepburn.
Work has already begun on one lot, removing the shrubs that once hid the eyesore from Union Cemetery. And, Advanced Planning Sales Manager, Steve Lopez, believes in months, the final resting spots will be something to see and respect.
"Now we are put on the spot because we've opened up. We've pulled back the curtain, and now we have to take care of it. So, we are going to keep our promise and do it," said Lopez.
"We want it to be a nice experience for people to come out and visit the cemetery no matter what part of the cemetery they come to," said Hepburn.
Hepburn expects everything to be done by June. Hepburn would not give 17 News specific figures of how much the improvements and upkeep will cost. All he would say was thousands.