In the 30+ years I have been a Volunteer on the Board of Directors for the non profit gem, Pleasant Hill Cemetery, we have been fortunate to have been 'hidden away' with no vandalism to speak of (some occasional car ruts or broken flags or litter, but that's about it). At least until recently. In May 2012 we had our first 'real' bout of vandalism when 3 Veteran's headstones on the left side, our storage shed, and our signs were all attacked by spray paint and obnoxious graphics. The signs were unable to be saved, but fortunately we were able to clean the stones, as they were a stone with a smooth finish and we found the damage early. One of the stones was that of a Civil War POW, another was a Civil War vet, and the third was one of our past volunteer board members.
We had hoped this was a one-time senseless act. However in August 2013, I got a call from WBPD advising me that an officer on patrol reported the spray painting of 17 stones, this time on the right side of the cemetery. Sickened, I went up to view the damage, and actually found 19 stones affected. Seems the vandals made a path from the entrance, walking down towards the back right corner, spraying as they went. Ironically some of the same graphics/symbols as the May 2012 incident clearly identified these cretins as the same ones both then and now. Which will definitely tie the two incidents together when we can find them. Of these 19 stones, many were from the 1800s, about 1/3 were Veterans stones, including two rare Zinc/Alloy monuments. Several were Civil War Veterans, some in the Town's Veteran's lots, as well as the grave of another past board member. Some stones were ancestors/families of current volunteer board members including myself. Many old town families such as Alger, Snell, Howard, and Pittsley were affected.
This Spring (2015) at the first mowing we discovered many smashed statues and urns throughout the cemetery. We started this page when in June 2015, we were called by a visitor to inform us of our latest casualty - two WWII veteran's stones in the back left part of the cemetery were toppled. Baker's (another old town family) was broken, while a brass marker for Edmonston was beaten, and his upright stone toppled. That man had been a Veteran serving under Gen Patton, receiving 5 battle stars, a certificate of merit, Bronze Star, and Citation for Heroic Action. But it didn't end there. In November, 2015 just before Veteran's Day a back section of the cemetery was targeted, with 2 stones toppled, urns and statues smashed, flags uprooted, and military flag holders broken. Most recently on New Years Eve 2015, we were hit again, our largest amount of damage yet with 33 stones in 5 out of our 8 sections. This time stones were toppled and 2/3 of them were broken or smashed beyond repair including the oldest stone in our cemetery dating back to 1751. Roughly half of the stones were veterans including an Andersonville POW.
I am devastated with all that we have experienced, and it truly breaks my heart to have this continue, and not be able to repair and replace many of these old stones as well as take preventive measures to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Through all of this, I was tasked with notifying the family members that I can find about their monuments. The cemetery owns the land, but stones are considered personal property and damage to them is covered under most homeowner's policies. Sadly, due to the age and historic significance of the cemetery, the majority of the stones do not have living or traceable owners, (such as a 19 year old girl buried in the mid 1800's all alone in a family plot with no one ever heard from again), which leaves them unrepresented, and hence, unrepaired.
Unfortunately in the spray painted group, many were the very old (1800s) stones without 'gloss' finishes, and I fear they will not be able to be fixed. Two of the rare zinc alloy monuments may also be ruined.
As a non profit, we don't have funds to offer a reward, but hope that people will help us change that! We are hoping to eventually be able to hire professionals experienced in rare stone restoration, to help us try and repair the damage as well as fund a security system to catch future attempts at vandalism so that the vandals can be procecuted (Vandalism and Graffiti in a graveyard is a Felony in MA and carries stiff penalties such as triple damages, 500 hours of community service, loss of license for a year, and up to 5 years jail time)
We are working on estimates of the cost to repair or replace the damage so our goal figure may change as we get this information. With these funds we would like to:
1. Restore, repair or replace damaged stones from the vandalism, and eventually other old stones that have been broken and damaged thru the years thru age vs vandalism.
2. Offer a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of these vandals.
3. Replace veteran flag holders throughout the cemetery
4. Add security cameras and possibly sensor lighting to deter and catch future vandalism attempts
5. Ongoing maintenance projects such as destructive plant removal, water service restoration, fencing.
6. Fund research to find owners or ancestors of old lots to make them aware of the cemetery and keep them involved.
7. Erect a permanent memorial sharing the touching story of Lillie, the little girl buried by her doctor in secret after she died going thru town with her family on the Underground Railroad.
8. Lastly, have funds remaining to assure the ongoing operation of the cemetery for future generations.
Any help you can give us is most greatly appreciated. Feel free to visit our Facebook page (Pleasant Hill Cemetery West Bridgewater Official) to see more photos of the damage and keep updated.