We can help stop cemetery theft! We can inform our local dealers to be aware of the situation. We need to document funerary art (e.g., gates, fences, plaques, flag holders and the like) as well as our memorial stones.
This documentation is evidence needed to reclaim articles that have been stolen…
- Oct.97 – “Arrested for theft of seven gates from Mt. Auburn Cem. MA., four gates were recovered from antique shops,” and “caught in the act of dismantling gates and fences from a pioneer cemetery–they had sold some 2500 lbs. of iron to a welding outfit–iron is often used for patio furniture–several cemeteries are trying to sort the pieces.”
- “A woman who, while attending a party, finds her grandfather’s gravestone in her host’s patio wall.”.
- An historic Masonic Monument had metal relief plaques on it in when it was erected in 1882. Since then they have been stolen and replaced by stone engravings done by a local monument company.
- All have surely read about “Shep” the dog statue, a zinc statue of the family pet from 108 years ago. Four years ago it was stolen from the family plot in PA. Last fall the police circulated flyers to antique dealers, and it turned out that a man in New Haven had paid $20,000 for the statue. Resale value was estimated at $50,000. The statue has been returned to family who are hesitant about putting it back in the family plot for fear of it being stolen again.
With such profit to be had, is it a wonder that our cemeteries are such vulnerable targets? How many cemeteries have you been to where you’ve seen large portions of iron gates and fences – maybe up to 80% – already missing. Statuary urns, lambs and angels are disappearing at alarming rates, and being purchased by garden lovers, unaware that this old statue probably came from someone’s gravesite.
There are disturbances of another kind – where little or no documentation exits. In Louisiana a railroad is being built through a church cemetery, that is active and has been used for 90 years. When land taken by the Department of Defense to put in the railroad, a spokesman stated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had no idea the cemetery existed. It does not appear on the public maps. If proper documentation isn not done, and checks made on the documentation that has or hasn’t been done – these things can happen all the time.
What can you do ?
Encourage your local police to patrol the cemetery more often. Notify the police and your local cemetery authority when you see even one new toppled stone or similar problem. When the word gets out that someone does care and is watching – problems will lessen. Please put your words of dismay at these incidents into action and be part of a movement to correct this atmosphere of non-caring about our old cemeteries. CGN will be happy to help you with ideas and put you in touch with resources for your teachers.
One of the goals of CGN is to work with the Historic Commission to help communities protect their local cemeteries. This leads to many questions regarding state statues and legislation that needs be changed. First we must start by understanding our own individual towns. Please get curious and check your local community for any ordinances which may relate to graveyards. You may be surprised as to what we take for granted or how these writings are interpreted or not acknowledged. Send us a copy of what you find and we can add it to our files for future reference and to develop model ordinances which we may suggest that each town adopt.
Suggestions for those that have had an item stolen from a cemetery
An effort was made few years ago to gather a force to obtain federal recognition to these issues… but to date we are not aware of any federal law that has been accepted and passed as a final decision, however our efforts did lead to many individual states taking their own actions against such crime. Consult first with your local law enforcement agencies, Historical Commissions and then your state representative to inquire further of your state status.
You can also try the following suggestions in an effort to educate the public and attempt to retrieve your missing item:
- Note: first an item is not considered stolen unless it is first reported as such to the local police authorities and a report and description (photo’s are nice) of said item are documented.
- Contact area Auction houses and antique circuits with a description of the item along with the local police number and assigned detective to report inquires to. Circulating this information is one good way to let the thieves and the dealers know about such happenings and step up the general awareness. We have trade antique papers like Maine Antiques digest and the Newtown Bee that will work with folks on this, and print an advertisement and photo of such items.
- You can make inquires of ebay – they are for the most part cooperative but admittedly have so much traffic it is almost impossible to maintain a constant surveillance, but they will respond to a complaint.
- Collectors.org have over time been most receptive to these issues – if you go to the below site you can post your item. Take notice there are other cemetery articles posted, and some with $$ amounts listed. I would advise against this number game as the thieves also have computers and we wouldn’t to help them with their work.