Nicodemus and Emilia Snow were Oregon Trail pioneers originally from Missouri. On Sept. 13, 90 years after Nicodemus was buried at Brainard Cemetery in Northeast Portland, the couple's headstone was hit with graffiti.
When Rachel Fox, manager of the pioneer cemeteries program for Metro Parks and Environmental Services, found out, she was saddened but not surprised.
Three of Metro's six eastside Portland cemeteries have seen a huge increase in vandalism this past year. From September 2010 to September 2011, 52 headstones were vandalized at Lone Fir, Multnomah Park, and Brainard cemeteries. That's up from six headstones the previous year.
According to Fox, most cemetery vandalism involves knocked-over headstones. This March, 16 obelisk tombstones were toppled at Lone Fir Cemetery. In August, 12.
As with many old burials, the names of the Snows' descendants aren't on file. As a result, Metro is responsible for fixing and restoring the headstones. Fox says the cost is $300 just to repair the Snow tombstone.Fox and several cemetery volunteers don't know why vandalism has spiked over the past year, but theories range from rowdy teenagers to frustrations with the economy. Janice Reed, vice chair of Friends of Lone Fir, suggested a possible connection to Yu-Gi-Oh!, a card game that features an Egyptian God called Obelisk the Tormenter.
"I looked around on the internet and found this website," said Reed. "With these games, it becomes real for some people, and maybe someone decided to bring it to life." Reed mentioned that the Tormenter card also references eternal slumber, but she admits that her theory is no more than a guess.
Partially in response to increased vandalism, volunteers for Friends of Multnomah Park Cemetery, have started to photograph the cemetery's tombstones in case they are damaged beyond repair. Friends of Lone Fir is considering starting a cemetery watch.
Abuse of a memorial to the dead is a Class A misdemeanor with up to a $50,000 fine—not including restitution costs that increase significantly depending on the historical value of the object.
Metro park rangers have been in frequent contact with the Portland Police. "The best we've been able to do is call and let the police know," said Fox. "The Police department has been great at supplying increased security, but this is an extremely difficult crime to prevent."