Historic Green-Wood Cemetery says it need to raise $100,000 to repair what it describes as unprecedented destruction perpetrated by vandals last week.
More than more 50 monuments and gravestones — most from the 19th century — were toppled or destroyed Monday night or early Tuesday morning.
The cemetery said that “there was a preponderance of crosses and crucifixes that were destroyed." As a result, the NYPD Hate Crimes Unit was said to be investigating the incident.
“This act was done by someone with a vengeance,” said Ken Taylor, Green-Wood's longtime vice president of operations.
Taylor said that police found an image of an intruder on one of the cemetery’s video cameras and were seeking to identify him.
Meanwhile, the cemetery, which is a national historic landmark, has taken on the burden of repairing the damaged monuments.
“We have no legal responsibilities to repair the monuments — that’s the responsibility of the families,” said Taylor. “But most of those families are gone. So we’re repairing the monuments.
“We have some very skilled people here — they can make a new wing for an angel [sculpture] out of marble,” he said.
Taylor added that four of the damaged gravestones are of later vintage, from the 20th century, and that in those cases, the families have been notified.
Last August, Hurricane Irene destroyed between 50 and 60 trees in the cemetery, and in some cases those trees toppled gravestones when the fell. But Taylor says there’s no comparison with damage resulting from the latest vandalism.
In the past, the surrounding community has been generous when there have been problems at Green-Wood. “Last year, after the hurricane, a new couple who had just moved into the neighborhood donated $5,000,” said Taylor.
As of Friday, the cemetery was on heightened security, and patrols had been doubled. The damage was concentrated in the eastern part of the cemetery, “between Terrace Place and where 10th Avenue would be if it continued north,” Taylor commented.
Green-Wood Cemetery was established in 1838 “as part of rural cemetery movement,” said Jeff Richman, official historian of Green-Wood. “You could have a religious experience. You could commune with nature, and in turn communicate with God.
“So throughout its history, we have liked to think of Green-Wood as a picturesque, pastoral retreat, where people would be safe and monuments would be safe. I have been here since 1986, and I have no recollection of anything approaching this.”
Richman added that the cemetery would have to divert money from its Historic Fund Restoration Program, which seeks to preserve historic and other outstanding monuments, to repair the damaged gravestones.
Aaron Brashear, president of the Concerned Citizens of Greenwood Heights, added, “We are very upset to say the least. Who in their right mind would inflict such senseless damage to such a historical place, let alone desecrate graves like this?”
He urged his fellow neighborhood residents to donate to the cemetery. The cemetery’s web site is green-wood.com.
Among Green-Wood’s most famous “permanent residents” are composer Leonard Bernstein, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, newspaper publisher Horace Greeley, political leader William Marcy “Boss” Tweed, the Steinway family of Steinway Piano Company fame, and Frank Morgan, who played the wizard of Oz in the classic 1939 movie.