When Deputy Mayor Kelly Shelffo went to the front door Sunday morning, she couldn’t believe the news. Then, she looked past the state police on her porch and looked around the neighborhood.
“They knocked on my door and told me, and my first reaction was non-belief,” said Shelffo Monday afternoon. “Then I looked out and saw all the evidence. It was disappointing. I was sick to my stomach.”
Shelffo and other Esperance residents and business owners are still trying to figure out why someone would paint a series of swastikas throughout the small village situated on the west bank of Schoharie Creek. The damage was done early Sunday morning sometime after the New Year was rung in, and along with a historic church in the village, the vandals also painted the Nazi symbol on street signs, throughout a small park in the middle of town, and on various homes and businesses.
For Esperance native Kenneth Jones, it was a sight he had never seen before.
“For someone to do this to a little village, what does it mean for our future?” said Jones, the village and town historian for Esperance. “To start the New Year off this way is very disturbing. The vandalism, the graffiti, it’s horrible, but it’s more about what those symbols mean.”
State police based in Cobleskill were still investigating the vandalism late Monday and offered no comment on the situation.
At CeCe’s Wool and Farm Store at 169 Main S., owner Cecilia Tkaczyk, the former Democratic state senator from the 46th District, quickly removed a painted swastika from her store sign. She was informed of the vandalism around 10 a.m. Sunday morning, and left her Duanesburg home quickly to take care of the matter.
“When I got there the state police were still investigating the scene, and I told them, ‘I have to take this down, now,’ ” said Tkaczyk. “We were able to use some Wd 40 and clean it off immediately. If I hadn’t gotten it off, I would have taken the sign down. I found it very disturbing that anyone would place this symbol of hate anywhere, let alone on my property. I was so upset I had to remove it immediately.”
It will take more than Wd 40 to remove the swastika painted on the Esperance Presbyterian Church.
“It will be extremely hard because it’s made from a porous kind of stone,” said Pastor Burt Mayne, who serves both the Esperance Presbyterian Church and another Presbyterian Church in Carlisle. “I just thought, how sad. How stupid. The idiocy of these young folks is hard to believe.”
Mayne said he had no evidence that the acts were committed by teenagers. The church is offering a $500 reward for any information leading to an arrest and conviction for the vandalism.
“Something like this is usually the stupidity that has a few people connected to it,” said Mayne, who said the sandstone church was built in 1823. “Usually it’s a couple of kids being egged on by someone else. It’s so sad. What a horrible way to start out the New Year.”
Jones said he had lived in Esperance his whole life and doesn’t remember any form of vandalism coming close to Sunday’s crimes.
“We’ve had some vandalism before in our town, but it was mostly broken stones in the cemetery,” he said. “Nothing like this. This is a small community, and it’s very painful. Most everyone knows each other. Who would do this?”
Village and town officials worked hard to clean up the damage they could on Sunday and Monday. Shelffo saw it as a teaching moment and got her two children, Brianna Smith, 14, and Justin Smith, 12, involved.
“As a mother, I wanted to offer a lesson to my kids, and as a public official I thought it was my civic duty to get out there and starting cleaning up,” said Shelffo, who added that Esperance Mayor Charles Johnson was out of town on Sunday. “I talked to the cops, I drove around and saw all the damage, and then we went to work.”
The effort by Shelffo and others impressed Tkaczyk.
“Esperance is a wonderful little place, and I’m very proud of how quickly these symbols of hate were removed,” said Tkaczyk. “That gave me some comfort.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]