Saturday, May 06, 2006

History Sold for Scrap

A quiet crime wave is sweeping America, taking with it our graveside decorations.

In the past few months, thieves have pried bronze plaques off war monuments in Lynn, Massachusetts, and ripped off flag holders from graveyards in Oceana County, Michigan, and Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. About 450 vases were stolen from a Colonie, New York, cemetery, and 73 more from a yard in York, South Carolina. 600 pounds of "flower pots" (actually brass vases from gravesites) turned up in an Omaha, Nebraska, scrap yard.

The thefts are attributed to the high prices fetched by scrap metal these days. A pound of bronze can bring $2 or $3—good money for individuals with minimum-wage jobs and no souls. As a consequence, items that remained untouched through a Great Depression and World War II scrap drives are now fair game.

This is additional reason to take careful notes when visiting an ancestor's grave. Write down the inscription, but also jot down a description of the stone's condition, and note any additional markers indicating military service or membership in an organization. Before leaving, snap a photo of the entire plot, and close-ups of the markers and (if present) vase. If anything turns up missing, contact the sexton, cemetery association, or police.

A grave and its accessories are the only property your ancestor can still be said to own. It's up to you and your family to protect it.

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