"'Someone's in a rage'Damage is widespread, as vandals hit thehistoric Blakely Cemetery again."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:58 PM
"Nearly 70 gravesites were damaged at Port Blakely Cemetery over the weekend, the second incident of vandalism there in as many weeks.Visitors to the cemetery Saturday morning found dozens of headstones toppled or in pieces on the ground.In several instances, stones appeared to have been pounded to shards with a sledge hammer.I'm heartbroken. This is just incredible, said Port Blakely historian Andrew Price, surveying the damage Monday morning. Someone's in a rage.Police say they have no leads in the desecration, the latest in a recent string of vandalism and graffiti incidents at island churches, the Filipino-American Community Hall, Bainbridge High School and downtown Winslow.A $10,000 reward is being offered for the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators. Anyone with information should contact the Bainbridge Police.At Port Blakely Cemetery, older gravestones appeared to have been the primary targets, with damaged markers scattered throughout the cemetery. Although several of the upended stones marked the graves of islanders of Japanese descent, the latest damage is inclusive enough to be considered random, Bainbridge Police Detective Steve Cain said. In contrast, police called the vandalism of two weeks ago a hate crime, because destruction was confined - with one possible exception - to Jewish graves.Those gravesites were left undisturbed this time. Police patrols in the area have been stepped up, and neighbors alerted to watch for suspicious activities. One problem with keeping tabs on the cemetery, police say, is that there is no clear line of sight to the grounds from the road or from neighboring homes. The cemetery sits at the end of a long dirt track off Old Mill Road, and is surrounded by trees.Possible safeguards might include removing the cemetery sign and installing a video camera, Price said.After similar vandalism in 1992, Price considered hiring private security, but could not locate a Bainbridge-based firm. Now he fears the cemetery may have to be enclosed with a fence, and a gatekeeper hired. The cemetery would lose some of its appeal, said Price, who had helped care for the graveyard since the early 1980s. It's such a quiet peaceful place, he said. It would become just another city cemetery - and no one wants that. Other islanders joined Price in visiting the cemetery to see the damage Monday.Members of Bainbridge's Japanese American community shook their heads in disbelief at the destruction. A middle-aged man and woman carried a bucket together, filled with a sponge and small tools. They moved from site to site, doing what they could to repair minor damage. Others offered to help when major repairs are undertaken. Price said it took several years to restore the graves after the 1992 vandalism. In order to right the larger stones, a tripod with block and tackle must be placed over a grave. You hoist it up and hope it doesn't fall over on you, Price said.He pointed to a marker set off-center on its round base, noting that he and fellow workers couldn't always place stones in the center of a base before the quick-acting epoxy hardened. Putting them up is such a laborious thing, Price said, but we've got to do it. We owe it to all the families.DocumentsThe restoration effort will receive assistance from the Washington State Cemetery Association, a Port Orchard-based nonprofit formed in 1998 to preserve the state's graveyards.WSCA President Andi MacDonald surveyed the cemetery Tuesday, mapping the graves. She also filled out a detailed form describing each marker and the damage sustained.We document everything about the stones, MacDonald said, even to the biological growth on them. MacDonald will give police an estimate of the dollar amount of repairs, should anyone be apprehended and convicted of inflicting the damage.She will also list what needs to be done to repair each stone, and show volunteers the conservation methods that will set the stones permanently. MacDonald said one reason the WSCA offers services for free is that the older graves are often the only record of an individual's life - particularly if the deaths occurred before 1907, when Washington State began keeping such public records. If the stone is gone, that's the end of the death proof, MacDonald said. It's the only proof that these people ever existed. Price is so well-versed in the graveyard's history that he could identify the occupants of several graves whose stones had been toppled face down.One was a ship captain, he said, another hailed from Nova Scotia.The cemetery is about the island's past, and it's worth preserving, Price said. I have to hope what's happened here isn't about the island's future. "