A Senseless Act

A senseless and random act of vandalism. On Saturday night, 51 headstones were damaged at the 149 Old Boalsburg Road cemetery near Zion Lutheran Church, in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. Some of the head stones may not be able to be fixed because the materials used to create them are not available anymore. Conservative estimates of repair costs are in the ballpark of $100,000.

This cemetery is a very famous one, as the town of Boalsburg's main claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Memorial Day (I talked about that a bit more here - and yes, that is a glimpse of this very same church and cemetery in the background of my prior Blip). In fact, near the end of this month, the town will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the event. It is a very big deal. And now this.

Though I don't get there as often as I'd like, this is one of my favorite local cemeteries. As a child, I always played in graveyards and thought nothing of it. There is something charming about graveyards, something soothing about those organized rows of stones, I think. I take comfort in walking through them, looking at the names, reading the stories.

These pretty stones, these little mementos, these poignant verses: it is a way of honoring those who have gone before us and remembering them. It helps us make sense of death. We place the mortal remains of our loved ones into these spaces; we commend their souls to God. World without end, amen.

I had heard about the vandalism on the radio over the weekend. And so, the first chance I got, I drove to the cemetery, curious to see the damage. At first, I thought it was just a half-dozen old stones near the church itself. And I felt a little bit relieved. But then a white-haired older lady came by and straightened me out: 51 stones throughout the grounds had been damaged, she said; who would do such a thing? And we asked this question of each other: Why, why, why? What was to be gained from it?

That old idle-hands-devil's-workshop thing, I hypothesized, hearing my grandmothers' words coming out of my own mouth: someone who clearly didn't have enough to do. Another older lady came by. She was indignant; no, furious. Who shall defend our dead, who cannot defend themselves? I sensed she might have liked a few private minutes with whoever did it. Locally speaking, I suspect she might need to take a number and stand in line for that. This took some strength, we commented. It wasn't just one individual. It took some time. How could it be that nobody heard anything? And of course: Why, why, why?

A local news organization made a short, two-minute video showing the damage; those who may be interested can view that here. I understand that there is a reward for information that leads to the arrest of the individual(s) responsible for this. Members of the community are stepping forward to help raise funds for the repair and reconstruction of the stones, where possible. There is even a "Save the Graves" Facebook page.

Those who manage the graveyard, and who are getting it ready for the big Memorial Day festivities later in the month, have said that while they plan to clean up some of the damage, they will leave some of it there for visitors to see. And so they all shall bear witness - and so shall I - to this senseless act of violence toward this cemetery, and toward our faithful departed.

The song to accompany this senseless act of destruction which occurred in the wee hours of darkness is Barry McGuire's Eve of Destruction.

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