Chip Minemyer | Repairs on way for damaged Boalsburg Cemetery, but pain and questions will linger

Crews are set to begin repairing the headstones that were damaged last weekend at the Boalsburg Cemetery.
Crews are set to begin repairing the headstones that were damaged last weekend at the Boalsburg Cemetery. CDT file photo

Henry Dale died more than a century ago and rests beside his wife, Henrietta, in Boalsburg Cemetery.

Thanks to vandals, their grave markers also lie side by side now, among the 50 headstones knocked over last weekend in what authorities say was a $100,000 overnight crime spree.

Not far away, the marker for Joseph Myer was pushed onto the grass not 10 feet from the local road. Myer’s grave marker says he died in 1868.

Joe Smith, a grounds-keeper at the cemetery since 1981, said he struggles to understand how someone could find pleasure in damaging another person’s burial place.

“I’ve put a lot of hours in here, a lot of years,” Smith said early Friday morning at the cemetery’s edge. “It makes you sad.”

Many individuals and groups in the community have reached out to offset the costs of repairing the headstones. A campaign, dubbed “Save the Graves,” was launched on the website GoFundMe.com with a goal of $50,000 — or half the expected cost of repairs.

Bonfatto’s restaurant, of Bellefonte, will sell sandwiches Friday at Boalsburg Fire Company, with proceeds going to the cemetery association.

In the coming days, Mayes Memorials, of Lemont, will have a crew there lifting stones back into place and working to repair markers that were broken.

Mayes owner Dick Stever said his four-man crew will use a machine donated by BestLine Equipment to pick up the stones, some of which weigh 1,000 pounds. Workers also will use “old-fashioned block and tackle tripods,” Stever said.

“We’ll clean them, put them back together,” he said. “It’s going to take several days. It’s going to be a fair amount of work.”

The Boalsburg Cemetery is behind Zion Lutheran Church and across Boal Avenue/Business 322 from the Pennsylvania Military Museum.

The site is central to the town’s annual Memorial Day celebration, and Stever said his team will hustle to have the repairs done for the holiday.

Among the toppled stones in need of help is a large marble cross that had stood over the grave of Clara Keller, who died in 1932. Several large stones were knocked over in the Keller family plot.

Margaret, wife of Henry Keller, died on May 2, 1891. Her fallen headstone has this inscription: “In thee O Lord have I trusted.”

“We’ll tidy up all the broken pieces and put them back together as best we can,” Stever said.

State College police are investigating the vandalism, and had no update at week’s end.

“The detectives continue to follow up on all leads that are developed,” Chief Tom King said.

King hopes someone comes forward with information that leads officers to those responsible for damage done to the final resting places of Elizabeth Kobel, who was 80 years old when she died in 1860, and Rebecca Shuey, who passed in 1888 and whose toppled marker reads: “Our Mother.”

Joe Smith said that many people, including cemetery officials, were brought to tears at the sight of the destruction. The hurt mixes with anger.

“An awful lot of people are really torqued-off about it,” said Smith, who worked at the cemetery for many years with his brother, Gene, who died last year.

“I’d like to see them catch somebody and pin it on them,” Smith said. “But I don’t know what the chances are of that happening.”

Stever said people might be shocked to learn how often he gets called out to repair a damaged cemetery. He recalled a similar incident two years ago in Warriors Mark.

“It happens more than people know,” he said.

“I don’t think it was premeditated,” Stever said. “I think it was spontaneous.

“I would like to think that people don’t sit around and say, ‘We’re going to go vandalize a cemetery.’ But it doesn’t make any difference in the outcome, really.”

Stever said working at the cemetery is his “time to give back,” and that he looks forward to “a great feeling to see it put back together.”

John Wagner lived from 1776 to 1850. Even as his gravestone is lifted from the Boalsburg grass and returned to its proper place, one question will burn through Stever’s mind.

Why would someone do this?

“When you’re there working, your head is constantly shaking,” Stever said. “All the effort we’re going to put into this thing is not necessary, so senseless.”