Vandals smear vegetable oil on monuments

November 29, 1999

Antietam vandalsBy MARLO BARNHART and LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writers

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

SHARPSBURG - Someone has poured vegetable oil on Union statues at Antietam National Battlefield, mimicking similar acts of vandalism at other Civil War sites.

cont. from front page

Damage to the Indiana and Pennsylvania monuments was discovered last Tuesday at Antietam. After the weekend's rain ended, oil became visible on the nearby New Jersey monument as well, Superintendent John Howard said.

"We're reexamining them all again. I wouldn't be surprised if we do find some more," he said.

The oil seeps into the granite and darkens it, making it difficult to clean without damaging the historic structures.

"It's very frustrating. Everybody who saw it was just sickened by it," Howard said.

Howard believes the same people were involved in similar acts of vandalism at Gettysburg National Military Park on Nov. 18 and 19. Seventeen monuments were marked with vegetable oil.


At both parks, vandals poured small quantities of oil on each of the monument's four corners or on top of the stone.

Officials aren't sure if the recent acts were done by the same group that defaced dozens of monuments at Civil War sites in the South last year.

In March 1998, a group of men, claiming to be "on a mission from God" to reunite the North and South to prevent an end to the world that year, defaced 38 monuments at Vicksburg, Miss., said Greg Zeman, chief ranger at Vicksburg National Military Park.

The group prayed and blew rams' horns while anointing with oil dozens of monuments at Vicksburg, as well as Shiloh National Military Park, Brice's Crossroads National Battlefield, Tupelo National Battlefield and Fort Donelson National Military Park before they were caught.

In February they were sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay nearly $17,000 in restitution. The men claimed they didn't know they were hurting the monuments.

"My initial reaction is it's a copycat," Zeman said.

Certain details of the Vicksburg cases were different than those at Gettysburg and Antietam, including the oil pattern and type, he said.

"There's enough difference to make you wonder," Howard said.

The investigation is being handled by the National Park Service police with help from the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Anyone noticing vehicles in the battlefield area after hours or someone acting suspiciously is asked to contact deputies at 301-791-3020.

In response to the vandalism, Antietam has stepped up security at the park.

But Howard said rangers can't be everywhere all the time and the park is especially vulnerable at this time of year, when there are fewer visitors, he said.

Howard also hopes that park employees will be able to clean up the oil without further damaging the monuments.

Cleaning has been basically a common sense approach, coupled with some hints shared by officials at the other parks that were hit.

"We've found that Dawn really does break up grease," Howard said, mimicking the product's commercial.

In efforts to draw the oil out of the stone, they are mixing flour with a solvent and wrapping the damaged spots with a cloth, or poultice, Howard said.

About 95 percent of the damage has been cleaned up at Vicksburg and Zeman hopes the sun's ultraviolet rays will take care of the rest over time.

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