LEWISTON — About 150 gravestones at the Riverside Cemetery were toppled by vandals Thursday night or Friday morning.
Some of the stones were 200 years old and weighed 1,000 pounds or more. Many were completely torn from their bases, including those marked with small American flags as veterans’ graves. A few stones had rolled down hills and were found beside the cemetery road.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” groundskeeper Kevin Ouellette said. “This really sickens me.”
The Summer Street cemetery is not insured for such vandalism because plot owners are responsible for graves and markers. But some of the toppled stones have no one to care for them and no one to pay for repairs.
Ouellette estimated the damage at $30,000 to $40,000. It’s money the old, private cemetery doesn’t have.
“I guarantee a lot of this is going to be like this for years,” Ouellette said.
The Lewiston Police Department is investigating the vandalism. Based on the size of the stones toppled, cemetery officials and police believe more than one person was involved. Broken alcohol bottles were found at the scene.
The 40-acre cemetery was fine when Ouellette left it Thursday evening, locking the gate behind him. On Friday morning, he got a call from another Riverside worker: Stones had been knocked over during the night.
Riverside has dealt with vandalism before. In Ouellette’s 12 years as groundskeeper, he’s seen five or six stones tipped over at a time. He’d never seen anything like the destruction he found when he arrived Friday.
“This is an awful person doing this,” he said.
Stones were toppled throughout the cemetery, apparently at random. Some were so old that their lettering had been worn smooth and made unreadable by the weather. Others were more recent, marking the graves of veterans, parents, spouses and families.
The president of the cemetery’s Board of Directors called the destruction “heartbreaking” and “senseless.”
“Our thoughts are of the families whose stones have been damaged and the obvious disrespect that this shows those folks,” Bill Skelton said.
The cemetery does not yet have a list of the stones that were damaged. Family members can go to Riverside or call to find out if their stones were among those vandalized.
Repairs will be expensive. It can cost $50 to $500 to place a toppled headstone back on its base and thousands of dollars to replace those stones that are beyond repair.
The cemetery can’t afford it. Skelton said the board would gladly accept help cleaning up and paying for the damage.
“We’re open to anything, volunteers or community groups, anybody that is willing to come in and assist us in any way for the repairs,” Skelton said. “It would be hugely appreciated.”
Those interested in helping can call the cemetery at 782-1681.