More than 90 headstones were damaged Friday afternoon at the historic Hudson View Cemetery, a scenic burial ground that overlooks the city of Mechanicville from Pruyn Hill.
City police are investigating but no arrests had been made as of late Monday.
Cemetery caretaker Jim Doty estimated the cost to repair the damage — which took place in the oldest part of the cemetery, where headstones date from the mid-1800s — at between $200,000 and $300,000.
“At least half the stones are destroyed to the point where they can’t be put back together,” he said.
The headstones, some of which weighed more than 1,000 pounds, were damaged in a section where some of the best-known family names from this former mill town’s history — names like Pruyn and Burke — are buried. In all, 91 stones were damaged.
“It’s a lot of damage to a lot of stones,” said Mayor Anthony Sylvester, who visited the cemetery Monday afternoon to inspect the damage. “Thankfully a lot of them are just tipped over, but it’s going to take a backhoe to get in there to set them back upright.”
Police think the damage was done Friday afternoon by teenagers after the caretaker removed some patio furniture they had set up for partying in one corner of the property.
Mechanicville Police Chief Joseph Waldron said he believes there will be arrests, since he’s sure someone will provide useful information. The culprits could potentially be charged with felony criminal mischief.
He expects someone will come forward, given how upsetting this will be for many residents of Mechanicville, which has about 5,000 residents, many with families that have been here for generations.
“This is a small, tight-knit community. When people see this, they’re going to be really upset,” Waldron said. “These are the graves of people local streets are named after.”
The 30-acre cemetery lies on the border between the city of Mechanicville and town of Halfmoon, which is also between Mechanicville High School and the city. The cemetery contains nearly 7,000 graves. The damage was done in the Mechanicville section, which is the oldest.
The old section includes the burial monument of Civil War soldier Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, who grew up in Mechanicville and is generally considered the first Union officer to be killed during the Civil War. His 1861 grave was not damaged, but Doty said others nearby were knocked over.
“In 27 years as caretaker, I never had any vandalism at Hudson View,” Doty said. “Somebody had to have seen something. Once there’s a reward out, someone will talk.”
He thinks the damage occurred about 3:30 Friday afternoon, during daylight hours, so there had to be witnesses. There was talk of a reward fund Monday, though none had yet been established.
Waldron said the section has some of the bigger and more expensive headstones and monuments, and it would have taken several people to tip over some of the heavier stones.
He called the vandalism senseless. “It’s an unwritten rule. You don’t bother a cemetery and you don’t deface a church,” he said. “And yet they did it.”
Sylvester said after Easter weekend he hopes to organize volunteers to go in and make some of the needed repairs.
“To me, it’s trash people who do something like that,” the mayor said. “You wouldn’t want that done to your family. Why would you do it to someone else’s family?”
Sylvester vowed that the perpetrators will be caught.
“We’ll find them,” he said. “I hope their parents have a lot of money, because they’re going to pay for the damage they did up there.”
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Categories: Schenectady County