Vandalism causes grave damage in local cemetery
Helena Saim, born Aug. 29, 1865 and died Sept. 15, 1924 had been resting peacefully for about 90 years next to her husband, Olaf Saim, born May 3, 1863 and died April 30, 1925, until last week when the matching heart-shaped gravestones were both ...
Helena Saim, born Aug. 29, 1865 and died Sept. 15, 1924 had been resting peacefully for about 90 years next to her husband, Olaf Saim, born May 3, 1863 and died April 30, 1925, until last week when the matching heart-shaped gravestones were both upended out of the ground.
Charlotte Berg, 1921-2009, had barely begun her final rest when her large headstone was unceremoniously knocked down in a rash of nighttime vandalism at Hillcrest Cemetery above Pinehurst Park.
About 30 of the almost 40 downed gravestones were knocked over late last month; the others were done last year.
“It makes me so sick,” said local historian Joe Peterson. “There were some big stones too. It’s heart breaking.”
While the families are responsible for their family gravestones, in many cases the family has either died out or moved away and is no longer in the area. Several of the grave markers are dated in the early 1900s: one was a corporal in the cavalry and one looks like it is in Finnish. A few are so worn from the elements they are difficult to read.
According to Royce Mclaughlin, cemetery superintendent, only a few families have come forward to pay to have their family monuments set back up. A portion of the other costs will come out of the cemetery resources and part from the cemetery’s liability insurance.
Country Creations, a full-service monument company, is owned by a husband and wife team, Sue and Dick Larson, who began the business in 1987. Sue noted that many times the families homeowner’s insurance covers the cost of picking the stones back up and repairing them if need be.
She was very upset with the damage the vandals thoughtlessly caused.
“They should be ashamed,” Sue said vehemently. “Those are memorials to people's loved ones.”
Just a small 2x1-foot gravestone weighs 120 pounds, but larger monuments can go up to about 1,000 pounds.
While people may assume the damage was caused by strong teenaged males, it doesn’t always take a lot of strength or numbers. In recent incident when a number of gravestones were knocked over, the vandals turned out to be three 13-year-old girls.
According to Sue, some families save up to purchase the monuments for a long time. Average costs range anywhere from $2,500 up to $7,000 depending on many variables such as size, type of stone and engraving work done on the gravestone.
The Larsons are waiting for the ground to dry before they bring in the heavy crane to begin righting some of the stones. They are hoping to begin before Memorial Day weekend, but it depends on the weather as well as how busy they are.
“There’s more to it than just picking them up,” Sue said.
Dick spent a few hours measuring the gravestones and evaluating the damage. It will cost an estimated minimum $200 up to about $500 to upright the stones. The largest measured six feet tall. The price depends on how much the stone weighs and what needs to be done to get it securely back in place. Some are on hills, which can present another challenge.
Country Creations may need to get a larger crane to lift some of the larger stones.
The monuments that are tipped off their bases will be hefted back into place after a special bonding agent is applied, like a super glue for grave stones.
Some of the older stones are more fragile and were broken in half. To repair those, they drill a metal rod into the headstone to hold it together. The break will still be noticeable, a lasting testament to the damage caused by vandals who gave no thought for the families of the loved ones under the stones, or the amount of money paid for the stones in the first place, as well as the cost to undo the damage.
“I hope they catch them,” Sue said. “They have no respect.”
The Cloquet Police Department is actively investigating the crime and has extra patrol in the area.
The Cloquet Cemetery Association is offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. Anyone with information on the vandals can call 218-380-1839 or notify the police department.