By Dawn from Southern Michigan Gravesite Caregivers
As Halloween approaches, we that love cemeteries are faced with the problem of higher rates of vandalism. Unfortunately, these incidents do seem to jump in numbers around this time of the year pretty regularly, but there may be ways we can help lower the risks of damage with a little care and extra vigilance.
First, try to see if you can find out what the key problem areas are in your neck of the woods, as well as the key problem times. In some parts of the country, the night before Halloween (known variously as Devils Night, Mischief Night and so on) is the night to watch out for the most trouble. Devil’s Night dates from as early as the 1930s. Traditionally, youths engaged in a night of criminal behavior, which usually consisted of acts of vandalism (such as egging, soaping or waxing windows and doors, leaving rotten vegetables or flaming bags of animal feces on front porch stoops, or papering trees and shrubs).
While these activities aren’t as prevalent as they used to be, and Devils Night activities aren’t quite the big deal as they once were, some people still make a night of it. So, be aware, it’s not JUST Halloween, but at least a few nights leading up to it you must be watchful.
Another unfortunate thing that seems to be a part of our society these days is the disrespect and unnessecary vandalism. Whether is just youthful indiscretion, misdirected so called Satanic worship, ideas of vampiric cults or Gothic inspired ideas, who knows, but it seems cemeteries are being more and more vandalized with rarely a thought to the historical and emotional long term damage being done.
Lastly, there is a new and rather sad aspect to the kinds of vandalism being done, and that has an economic aspect to it. More and more frequently people are stealing bronze markers to resell at scrap metal dealers. Although it is understandable, with finances being tight, that people are struggling, we should all try to work together to out an end to this horrible activity.
This brings me to the crux of my article, what can you, as a concerned citizen, do to help lower the risk of vandalism and theft in your local cemetery this Halloween? Here are a few ideas:
1. Find out if your cemetery will have any one patrolling the cemetery after dark (i.e. staff or police. Most smaller, rural places do not. ) If you can manage it, offer to volunteer to do so. Let the caretakers know what time you will be there, and also let local law enforcement know, so they don’t confuse you with someone who shouldn’t be there. Don’t go alone, and bring flashlights, and cell phones. If you see anyone who shouldn’t be there, do not try to confront them, but call the police. Most of the time, just seeing someone else there would be enough to discourage anyone would-be vandals.
2. Ask the local police if they would be willing to do a few extra drive bys of the cemetery on Halloween night, and the few nights leading up it. If you live in a city, and police are readily available, they may be willing to do this.
3. Contact the cemetery and see if you could set up a trick-or-treat station there. It would be a good way to involve the community in your local cemetery. Set up a table at the front of the gate, with bowls of candy, and maybe a typewritten page with the history of it, and any interesting facts. Have them bring their children to trick or treat, walk around the cemetery, and then you can stay after dark to keep an eye on it. Getting the community interested in it will help ensure more people keep an eye out for it in the future, too, and help you get more people interested in future cleanup efforts.
4. If the cemetery doesn’t have a gate, ask if they would allow you to put a chain across the drives just for the night. Explain your interest in preserving local history and why you want to do this. They may be pleasantly surprised at your interest. Also offer to add some solar lights.
5. Remember, a lot of smaller cemeteries are very limited in budget, anything you can do would be most gratefully accepted.