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Gravestones damaged at Rose Hill Cemetery

October 10, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Cemetery workers began work Thursday to repair grave markers at Rose Hill Cemetery after they discovered more than 100 grave sites had been damaged the night before.

"It's just hard to imagine that there's anything this cruel," Rose Hill Executive Vice President William Divelbiss said.

There was no trace Thursday of who may have toppled the gravestones in the cemetery at the intersection of South Potomac Street and Memorial Boulevard, police said. Damage estimates are expected to reach as high as $40,000, Divelbiss said.

Hagerstown City Police Lt. Rick Johnson said the vandals struck sometime between 10 p.m. Wednesday and 7:30 a.m. Thursday.

Johnson said he hoped people would call police with information.

"We'd like to get it out there to see if anyone in the community knows what happened or knows who was involved," Johnson said.

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Divelbiss said 120 gravestones were overturned, most belonging to people who died in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

He said while he would try to contact family members of the people whose graves were damaged, it would be a long process.

Most of the gravestones - while weighing as much as 3,000 pounds - only had been pushed off their mounts and just needed to be placed upright. Some markers were broken, 6-foot granite crosses had cracked in half and obelisk-style stones broke apart on impact with the ground.

It is rare that vandalism occurs at the cemetery. Divelbiss said there is minimal security there, and he has kept it open at night since a firefighter had to break a gate open 15 or 20 years ago to put out a fire inside the cemetery.

Divelbiss said he takes a drive through the site once a night, and police sometimes cruise through. Nevertheless, it has been more than 20 years since vandalism of this magnitude has occurred, he said.

"We've never really worried too much about it," Divelbiss said.

Gordon Ott, a cemetery contract worker, was called in to help replace the stones.

Ott and cemetery maintenance crews spent Thursday lifting the markers with a small crane and putting the undamaged ones back in their places. He estimated they had returned about 30 markers to their rightful places, but it would take about a week to finish the work.

"It's a shame. It really is," Ott said. "I mean, why would you do something like this?"

Johnson asks that anyone with information about the incident call investigators at 301-790-3700, ext. 234. He said Washington County Crime Solvers also would accept tips at 301-733-4141.

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