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Cemetery vandalism rears its ugly head once again

Just as he does every year, Cloquet resident and retired teacher Don Kronemann ordered three cemetery baskets for the graves of his wife, Helen, and two other ladies who were close family friends. As soon as Helen’s basket was placed on her grave at Old Calvary Cemetery in Cloquet, he lovingly tended to it and the surrounding graves, just as he always has.

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But the morning he arrived at the cemetery just before Memorial Day to find the basket gone, he was heartbroken.

“I just can’t imagine anyone going out and stealing a cemetery box that’s been left there with love,” said Kronemann.

Sadly, the scenario is all too familiar, and such pointless vandalism often crops up at this time each year, when survivors are preparing their loved ones’ graves for Memorial Day.

An employee from Skutevik Floral in Cloquet said they frequently get orders from customers who mention their previous cemetery baskets were damaged or stolen.

“It seems to happen every single year,” she said. “I don’t know if whoever steals them uses them on someone else’s grave, or if they’re just tossed away.”

In 2008, three juvenile girls faced criminal charges in connection with two incidents of vandalism at Old Calvary Cemetery. Shortly before Memorial Day, vandals caused widespread damage in the cemetery, toppling 17 headstones and smashing glass bricks on the side of the burial vault building. Though most of the gravestones were either toppled or rolled off their bases, one — comprised of two pillars joined by a stone bridge — was damaged irreparably.

That same summer, vandals smashed five panels on the west side of the above-ground columbarium at Maple Grove Cemetery in Cloquet. The cost to replace the panels on the columbarium was estimated at approximately $760. Some of the structures at the cemetery were spray painted as well.

Similar vandalism occurred in Old Calvary and the adjoining cemetery in November 2006, and two episodes of widespread damage to headstones and grounds were reported in Hillside Cemetery in Carlton in May 2006 and again that same June.

In 2012, a sentimental wind catcher and a butterfly ornament were placed at the grave of a young woman by her parents in her memory just before Memorial Day. When they returned from a family vacation in early June, they discovered both had been stolen.

“We were not shocked, but saddened, as things have been stolen from her grave site before as well as other grave sites at this cemetery,” wrote the mother in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Pine Journal.

Interim Cloquet Police Chief Terry Hill said that if anyone observes damage being done at any of the area cemeteries, they should contact 911 at once.

After Kronemann discovered the basket on his wife’s grave had been stolen this spring, he canceled the order for the baskets planned for the other two graves he tends and instead substituted plantings in his backyard garden in their memory.

He said he doesn’t know yet whether he’ll be putting out a memorial basket on his wife’s grave next year.

“When something like this happens, you feel violated,” he said. “I haven’t felt this violated since my house was burglarized. It’s that same sort of feeling.”