Every vandalized or looted gravestone, statue, obelisk, urn, fence or gate strips our communities of their most fundamental heritage.—Texas Historical Commission, 2002
A recent Google search for "Vandalism" & "Cemetery" resulted in 1.2 million hits—up from 17,400 at the original publication of these results! Vandalism is one of the most serious problems that caretakers of historic cemeteries face when trying to preserve such precious resources.
Vandalism usually takes 3 forms:
- Thieves stealing valuable marble statues, metalwork, and decorative objects for resale
- Theft or destruction of tombs, markers, or the interred related to hate crimes or misinterpreted religious rites
- Senseless destruction of tombs and markers by teenagers.
At St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, most of the beautiful carved marble and metalwork documented in historic images has been stolen. A recent case of large-scale theft was tracked to a well-known New Orleans antique dealer.
Unfortunately, studies show that most destruction is caused by teenage boys, age 12-17, while drinking or when acting on "a dare." Several cemetery managers interviewed said that they shun publicity on the problem, as they believe that press coverage just encourages more juvenile destructive behaviour. Communities have found that the best way to reduce such destruction is through involvement of school-aged children in programs that promote an appreciation of community history, architectural and archaeological resources and of the historic cemeteries, specifically.