Knocking down headstones and tagging memorials with spraypaint may not bother the dead, but it sure does piss off the living. A recent round of vandalism in Maplewood Cemetery has angered nearby residents and reopened a sore spot between them and the city that stretches back for the better part of a decade.
Maplewood, just west of Martha Jefferson Hospital, has long been a nightspot for the homeless, underage beer drinkers and late-night vandals. Two weeks ago, residents woke up Saturday morning to find headstones—some of them over 150 years old—kicked down and ripped from their bases. Someone had topped off the scene by spraypainting the back of B.R. Pace’s (1833-1894) memorial with an angular smiley face.
Maplewood Cemetery has long been a hot nightspot for vandals and underage drinkers—not to mention a sore spot between nearby residents and the city. Late night vandals knocked over these grave markers several weeks ago.
Brian Daly, the assistant director of the city’s Parks and Rec department, which maintains the cemetery, says that workers were able to remove the graffiti. “We’re looking at how to best repair the stones.”
The oldest of the city’s cemeteries, Maplewood is an easy target for teenagers looking to tie one on or homeless wanting to catch some sleep. Its walls are low and its land slopes up and dips out of sight from Lexington Avenue. Boxwoods spot the land, providing nice bits of cover from passers-by. Bottles and cans collect under shrubs. Some years back, a camper dug a fire pit next the mausoleum at the top of the hill.
“As the place deteriorates and people pay less attention,” says resident Brian Menard, “people just treat it worse and worse.”
That a cemetery laid out in 1762 has become a late-night hangout for the bored and malicious is a source of frustration for residents, and has been for some time. Starting in 2000, there was a push headed by resident Sue Weber to place Maplewood under historic designation as a way to curb its misuse. Weber and residents took a full inventory of every marker, tree and person buried in Maplewood. But the push lost momentum, and the late-night visitors kept coming.
“The city, as far as I can see, really doesn’t have any ownership of the cemetery,” says resident Anthony Smith. “We no longer have the permanent caretaker. The only people who see what happens every day are the people who live on Eighth Street and Lexington.”
Up until 2000, J.D. Maupin, a city employee, maintained Maplewood, cutting grass, raking leaves, and shooing people out of the cemetery, according to a 2001 Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society interview. When necessary, he called the cops.
After 2000, the city subbed out maintenance duties to a contractor. That was good news for vandals and anyone with a six-pack and a Friday night to kill.
“It’s indisputable,” says Menard, “that the level of vagrancy and damage and the lack of attention by the city increased tremendously.”
After the most recent vandalism, Smith contacted Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo, looking for a way residents and the police can work together to keep people from setting up camp and knocking stones down in Maplewood. Longo says by e-mail that the police opened a “problem-solving project” to solve the existing problem.
“The response when you call [the police] is great,” Smith says. “The problem is there is no prevention. And as much as the city has been negligent, it’s the citizens as well. If we don’t do anything, these things just fester. There needs to be a step-up in ownership from a bunch of people.”
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