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Vandals smash headstones at cemetery

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FELTS MILLS — Vandals used a sledgehammer to smash the grave markers of Revolutionary War veterans, pushed over a local family’s headstone and poured gasoline on the burial site of a woman who died in April, according to the woman’s family and the cemetery groundskeeper, who were left to pick up the pieces this week.

“Somebody’s got something they ain’t got, and they’re going to ruin it,” groundskeeper Herbert A. Cross, also an Evergreen Cemetery Association board member, said with a resigned shrug.

State police and Mr. Cross said they believe several youths were responsible for the vandalism, which occurred sometime from Sunday to Tuesday at the cemetery, which is on County Route 143 in the town of Champion.

By Thursday afternoon, Tina M. Baker and cousin Larry Gilpin had replaced the family tombstone that had been pushed over and cleared debris from an ornamental cherub that the vandals broke to bits.

“I just feel closer to her when I come out here,” said Ms. Baker, whose mother, Beulah Baker, died April 25. “We feel like they did it to them,” she said of the vandals who targeted her family’s plot.

Other members of the Baker and Burke families — aunts, uncles and grandparents — are buried there. Ms. Baker, who has been visiting about once a week, said she will come even more often now, “staking out the place.”

But many of the long-deceased victims of the vandalism have no next of kin who can collect the granite and limestone shards that were strewn around their graves. Mr. Cross and the cemetery association will clean up the broken markers, of which there were about a dozen. Some of the families will be impossible to contact; the names on the headstones have faded into obscurity over the years. About five of the burial plots at the cemetery belong to Revolutionary War veterans, Mr. Cross said. He said he will consult the town historian, who might have records from an effort in the 1920s to document all of the names.

“I don’t know how we’re going to pay for that, or even fix it,” Mr. Cross said.

He said many of the broken markers will have to be laid back down on the ground, as they were before he took over in the 1990s. He said it took three hours to prop up each of the older headstones, which he has done for 25 to 30 headstones over the years “because it looks better.” It takes cement to make them stand again, and two people to lift them.

It’s getting harder and harder to get young people interested in joining civic organizations such as the cemetery association, Mr. Cross said. Yet when someone dies, he said, the person’s obituary might list 25 organizations to which he or she belonged. Two or three former cemetery association members have died, and they are not being replaced, he said.

He spends about three hours mowing the cemetery, which has about 100 markers, about once a week. It’s an unpaid job.

Mr. Cross recalled seeing reports of other cemeteries that have been vandalized, but it had never happened before at Evergreen Cemetery, he said Thursday afternoon while sitting under a shade tree filling a pipe with tobacco.

“Our luck run out,” he said.

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