Pine Ridge Cemetery.
Desecrating Cemeteries! Why?
by Marvin Kusmierz
September 8, 2003
The other day I was at one of the local cemeteries early in the morning. I was in search of family information for a couple of biographies that I was wanting to complete. As I was recording information from the headstones, a young lady walked up to me with a concerned look on her face, “Did you have any damage to any of your family’s graves?” I responded by letting her know that the grave site where I was standing was not family -- that I was collecting information for a history article. She proceeded to tell me about some severe vandalism that took place in the cemetery the previous night and that many grave sites were damaged by whoever did it!. As she spoke, the concerned look quickly turned to an angry grin. She was upset not because of any damage to her family’s burial site because none are buried there. She worked at the cemetery and cared about the family’s who were affected by this senseless act.
Most everyone has read articles in the paper about such vandalism and if you have frequented cemeteries, you’ve seen damage done there by vandals at one time or another. It has been going on since I was a child and that was long ago now. The question is, if we honor those who have passed on, why hasn’t there been a solution to the problem?
Tost of the vandalism is done by teenagers or very young adults, and usually as a group. Most would not want to wander around in a dark cemetery all alone. So, they get their youth kicks by doing something that wouldn’t do alone. It is highly unlikely that the next groups of devilish kids will be any different. There will always be some that see the cemetery as a place to do their thing. Another thought to consider is that when these kids grow up, may get older is a better choice of words, they stop desecrating grave sites and they usually break up as group and go their own way.
It seems to me that the solution to the problem is within us and not the kids. Therefore, the question that begs for an answer is, “Why haven’t we solved this problem or at least made it a very rare occurrence? “ Could it be we lack concern as a group and unless it’s our parents or a relative – it’s more of a shame than an outrage? There are solutions, and not all are expensive to implement. But, before a solution can happen, we need to change our perspective as to whether the problem is shameful or outrageous.
It may be useful to think ahead. One day we will be resting in one of those cemeteries. I guarantee you that this is true. Let’s say someone desecrates your grave site and, they knock your headstone over. What would you want others to do about it?
If you’re like me, I would want someone to repair it and to find a way to keep it from happening again. After all, I want the living to know that I’ve been here. If all goes well, I will have left my family an inheritance – I certainly want that should find a moment now and them to visit my grave site and to remember me. It would be nice and it would be paying respect. After all if it wasn’t for me and their mother, they would not have a life.
Let’s say something horrible happens one night. A “large” gang of kids decides to take their devious nature to another level. Instead of a dozen or so grave sites being vandalized, several hundreds are damaged. Would that make a difference in how we respond to what happened? It certainly would increase the number of people that are outraged. But, what would they do?
If we are concerned enough to act, there are some things that we can do. Consider the following actions as some potential solutions.
Unite and in a common cause to change what cemeteries are. As I mentioned earlier, cemeteries still operate much as they did in the horse and buggy days. Granted the roads are wider and paved now a days, but little else has changed. The sun goes down and they are dark, perfect cover for pranksters. Each of us must instill a message about what we want the place where we finally rest to be like, understanding that vandals will be waiting for us to arrive.
If cemeteries had lights that went on when it became dark, this might eliminate the behavior of those who wish to operate in the dark. Oh to be sure, some will find a dark corner somewhere inside the cemetery to carry on, but it will be a little more difficult to do so if the cemetery is lighted. Installing lights might be a bit expensive, but it isn’t an unreasonable cost when factored over the life of the cemetery. After all, look at how much we spend in preparing for burial. We need a casket which can be quite pricey for its limited purpose. A casket is primarily to display our remains to the living for a two or three days. I’d being willing to rent the fancy casket and use a pine coffin for the actual burial. And, I’d be willing to pay the going market rate knowing that some of its profit was being direct to the costs of maintaining a lighted cemetery. And, I think most others would as well.
There are other advantages to lighting cemeteries. Many cemeteries are along fairly well traveled roads and drivers might see something suspicious in the cemetery which they can easily report today using their cell phone. The other nice thing about lights is that cemeteries could be open to the public for a longer period of time, that would reduce the amount of time available to vandals to try and do their thing.
In a way, cemeteries have a monopoly. They know that they can wait us out. Sooner or later we will become a customer of one of them and when we are, we will be in no condition to complain about their service. It’s too late then! We need to do something about affecting changes while we are living. Even the undertaker has this problem. But, like us, he is too busy making a living to think about such things as eternity. That is a shame, but it is also understandable.
I a solution is to come, it will be up to “us” to do something that will effect a change owners of cemeteries to match out expectation, especially the owners of the cemetery we’ve chosen for our self. Maybe it can begin as an initiative of some group. Church groups may be a good starting point. If you discuss your outrage with enough of the other people at church and suggest a solution -- some of them may feel out raged themselves. Especially, if you shared a perspective with them that it may be their headstone others are referring to one day. Then the time is appropriate to do something positive that deals with a solution. A collective cause based on the understanding that if I don’t do something today, it may one day affect me is quite a motivator.
The establishment of one group is only the beginning. The next logical step is to include the minister or priest in preaching the word about the need for action and to spread it among leaders of other church communities. But, the preaching has to be more than just a Sunday “special” sermon, it has to have repetition so that it becomes a part of the normal dialog of the congregation. From there, it’s onto schools. Introducing kids to the concept of caring about their public and private heritage. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we begin discussing dying with kids who do not comprehend what death is, but with ages that do understand, we should not shy away from the subject. They need to be indoctrinated with why it is important to respect the homes (cemeteries) of those who have departed.
Remember, one day we will no longer be able to do anything about the place where our remains will rest. Our souls will be free of the flesh that bonded us to materialist things we needed to get through the process of living a mortal’s life. While we may care about how others remember us – we’ll be too busy dealing with eternal things to be distracted by a headstone that’s no longer in an upright position.
Headstone of George A. Wellman (1858-1892)
Wooden marker pays special tribute to his service.
Pine Ridge Cemetery - Bay city