Workers begin effort to restore and repair vandalized Boalsburg Cemetery gravestones

crosenblum@centredaily.comMay 12, 2014 

— Larry Beahm and Rich Stever steadied the low end of the weathered slab. Craig Pursell took care of the top.

Together, they righted a wrong.

The trio straightened the ancient Boalsburg Cemetery headstone, one of more than 50 toppled recently in an act of vandalism that shocked and angered local residents.

On Monday, volunteers channeled their emotions into restoring order.

A crew from Mayes Memorials in Lemont and Boalsburg Cemetery Association members began repairing the desecrated markers, lifting several upright with a crane and a block and tackle tripod.

“It’s going good,” said Pete High, cemetery association president. “I’m both surprised and pleased.”

Beahm and Stever, from Mayes Memorials, and Pursell, an association member, collaborated to fix the headstone of a woman who died July 25, 1858, as the wife of Henry Alexander. Her stone is so worn that her name has become illegible.

Once the stone was carefully maneuvered into place on its base, a gray epoxy held it in place. It looked as if nothing had happened — in sharp contrast to its broken neighbors.

“It’s senseless what they did,” Beahm said of the vandals. “I don’t know what pleasure people would get out of it.”

Some memorials were completely uprooted; others wound up cracked and broken. An estimated $100,000 in damage was done, spurring the “Save the Graves” fundraiser on the website GoFundMe.com. It aims to raise half the repair costs.

Mayes Memorials owner Dick Stever said it was an easy decision to lead the restoration of one of Centre County’s historic cemeteries.

“Right here is our backyard,” he said.

High said the plan is to restore almost all of the headstones by Memorial Day, when the village attracts thousands for the biggest local celebration of the holiday.

A few headstones near the Zion Lutheran Church will be left in the grass as a reminder of the vandalism and to help with fundraising.

Some enraged association members initially wanted to leave all the markers as they lay so Memorial Day visitors could see the full extent of the damage, High said.

But, he said, they realized the need to work on the cemetery “to get it repaired and get on with life.”

“The bitterness, it doesn’t heal the problem,” High said.

A Bobcat skid steer loader and a truck-mounted crane, on the other hand, came in handy.

Best Line Equipment donated the machines for Dick Stever’s crew to use.

“Dick called and said what he was up against,” Best Line employee Jake Spicer said. “We wanted to try and help out any little way we could.”

State College police are investigating the vandalism, but no leads have emerged.

Dick Stever said he doesn’t think the vandalism was premeditated.

He guesses the person or people behind the damage spontaneously pushed over a couple of headstones to start, enjoyed it and, moving down Old Boalsburg Road toward Zion Lutheran Church, wrecked more and more in a burst of malicious glee.

“Right up near the church, it’s like Sherman went through Georgia,” Stever said.

High said the sight of Mayes Memorial workers arriving early Monday morning was heartening.

“The support has just been tremendous,” High said.

Stever needed the support of the crane to hoist Henry Keller’s headstone back to its rightful place, where it had stood for 130 years in remembrance of him.

But for William J. Dale’s massive granite memorial, too heavy for the crane, volunteers turned to the block and tackle.

Stever estimated that the headstone, marking Dale’s 1920 death, weighed more than 1,200 pounds.

“Beautiful,” Stever said after the stone no longer rested face down in the dirt. “Next.”

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter@CRosen blumNews.

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