Williamsville Cemetery is a place where the dead have been laid to rest since the 1830s. But plans are in place to keep it from being a killing field for deer.
Officials of the cemetery, with an assist from neighbors and animal rights activists who reported seeing deer impaled on the spiked fence surrounding the property, announced Thursday that black, C-shaped caps will be installed over the roughly 4,400 spikes.
The black 19th century fence has been responsible for the gruesome deaths of deer that unsuccessfully attempt to clear the spiked structure, which rises 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 feet in places.
After raising a stink about the situation last month, members of Animal Allies of Western New York met with cemetery administrators and historic-preservation problem-solvers from International Chimney Corp. Together, they spent weeks researching and brainstorming possible solutions.
They didn't think it would be quite so difficult. "We thought there must be something out there, at least online," said Joseph Dispenza, president of the Williamsville Cemetery and Forest Lawn. But there wasn't.
The group needed to find a solution that was historically sensitive, visually pleasing, affordable and -- of course -- effective. It had to be resistant to impact and rotation, protecting deer jumping from either side of the fence.
In the end, they agreed to the C-shaped caps. "These seem so clearly elegant, so simple, least visible and removable," Dispenza said.
Both sides came together Thursday morning to unveil the new shields. Each steel cap will be painted black and powder-coated to resist corrosion.
The bottom of the cap will have a diamond-shaped cutout that will fit over the individual iron uprights. The top will have a small hole that will align with the spike top. Both the upper and lower cutouts will be caulked into place.
"I'm just so impressed with it," said Morgan Dunbar, founder of the Animal Allies group.
Joel Thomas, wildlife administrator for the SPCA Serving Erie County, said most deer can easily jump objects 4 to 8 feet high with no problem.
But deer are used to jumping organic structures like bushes and hedges, which offer flexibility and give, he said. They don't recognize the difference between those obstacles and immovable, man-made ones like an iron fence.
They also aren't bright enough to walk around to the cemetery gates. "They're not going to go, 'Guys, the gate's open! Come on,' " Thomas said.
He commended the design that the Williamsville-based International Chimney came up with to address the problem.
The shields that are being made by Capital Steel Works in Buffalo cost $10 apiece to produce, including caulking material. That doesn't include the labor costs, which the Forest Lawn Group is absorbing.
Williamsville Cemetery, part of Forest Lawn, is soliciting and accepting donations for the deer shields through the Forest Lawn Heritage Foundation. Tax-deductible donations can be made at the "Protect the Deer Fund" link on the cemetery website at www.williamsvillecemetery.com
Dispenza said he is also working with a Williamsville bank to accept walk-in donations for the project, which is expected to cost $44,000.
As money comes in, he said, Forest Lawn will order batches of the deer shields to install immediately, beginning with the areas where the most deer deaths have been reported.
Williamsville Cemetery submitted an application this week to the Williamsville Historic Preservation Commission for a Certificate of Appropriateness that would allow the addition of the deer shields to the fence.
Mayor Mary Lowther, who serves as liaison to the commission, said she plans to convene a commission meeting next week on the matter.
When Dispenza was asked why Williamsville Cemetery didn't attempt to resolve the deer issue sooner, he said cemetery officials had tried to address the matter six years ago.
He talked about creating an iron angled cap across the top of the fence, but his suggestion was informally rejected by the village's Historic Preservation Commission at that time. He said he believes the cemetery now has a more subtle and more attractive solution.