Crime

‘Desecration’: More than 20 gravestones damaged in historic Lancaster cemetery

Lancaster gravestones ‘desecrated’ at historic church cemetery

Nearly two dozen gravestones were broken or damaged over the New Year weekend at the historic cemetery next to the Olde Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Lancaster. Some stones date back to the 1800s. The building and cemetery are among the oldest i
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Nearly two dozen gravestones were broken or damaged over the New Year weekend at the historic cemetery next to the Olde Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Lancaster. Some stones date back to the 1800s. The building and cemetery are among the oldest i

Nobody was killed by Lancaster vandals at the turn of the new year. Yet the crime has been called a “desecration” because the victims were tombstones of at least 23 people who died in the 1800s.

Nearly two-dozen gravestones at the Olde Presbyterian Church cemetery in downtown Lancaster were knocked down or broken sometime overnight New Year’s Eve into New Year’s Day after a concert inside the historic church building that is now a cultural arts center.

The smashed and demolished tombstones were noticed Monday and reported to police.

“This is a desecration, an outrage against people and their history,” said John Craig, chairman of the Lancaster County Society for Historical Preservation that takes care of the cemetery adjacent to the church. The church and grounds on West Gay Street, among Lancaster’s oldest buildings, are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Craig said the historic society is outraged, and the community should be, too.

“Some were toppled, some were broken,” Craig said of the damage. “It’s terrible.”

Some of the graves are war veterans and others are some of the most prominent people of a long-gone era in Lancaster.

“Every person’s resting place is a sacred place,” Craig said.

The vandalism described in a Lancaster police report as “injury to grave property” will cost well over $10,000 to repair, Craig said. In the summer of 2016, nine stones were damaged and cost more than $6,000 to repair, Craig said.

The historic society is all volunteers and relies on donations to survive.

Gaulden Monuments of Rock Hill fixed the broken stones in 2016 and will again work to try to repair the damage. Bobby Gaulden surveyed the damage Wednesday and will soon begin repairs.

“I can put them back together,” Gaulden said.

Police have made no arrests in the case. Craig, of the historic society, said the damage is done but the spirit of the society and Lancaster remains unbroken.

“We will survive this onslaught against our history,” Craig said.

Want to help?

To contribute to the Lancaster County Society for Historical Preservation as it repairs damaged tombstones at Olde Presbyterian Church cemetery in Lancaster, email John Craig at jecraig66@gmail.com.

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