Erasing Our Heritage One Gravestone at a Time

Recently cemetery vandalism has been on the increase in our local cemeteries. The worst hit cemetery is the historic African American graveyard adjacent to Oakwood and known as the “Daughters of Zion” or “Society Cemetery.”


More recently, vandalism has been increasing in Maplewood Cemetery (near Martha Jefferson Hospital). The perpetrators vary in age from teenagers to adults and from the homeless to school children. Gang-related graffiti has been found, etched on an obelisk.

The recent spike in vandalism has decimated parts of Maplewood Cemetery.


In the photo (taken 14 April 08), the red dots indicate stones that have been broken, moved, or destroyed. In some cases the inscriptions are no longer legible and it will be very difficult (and expensive) to repair them. To read more about these recent incidents, please visit the NBC 29 website.

Part of the decline in cemetery landscapes is enabled because the average person never visits a cemetery. This disuse has led to abandoned acres of graves that are rarely visited by family members or the public. It’s unfortunate that our modern sensibilities discourage us from visiting and learning from these open-air museums. To the contrary, in the 19th Century families were encouraged to walk through the recently designed “rural cemeteries” (paradoxically located adjacent to cities). These burial grounds contained walking trails, sculpted shrubbery, and a Victorian style of funerary memorial that emphasized flowery inscriptions and moralistic epitaphs.


Today these monuments are part of a 200-year old landscape at Maplewood Cemetery. A stroll through this historic deathscape illustrates past ideas about death, the family, religion, and gender. Moreover, the epitaphs convey the history of Charlottesville, one individual at a time.

Charlottesville has several historic cemeteries, all of which teach us about the city’s multi-cultural past. The current behavior of a small number of people can by stopped if more people strolled through these graveyards and called the Police if they see something amiss.

A Charlottesville Police Officer has dedicated a portion of her time to working on this issue. If you see vandalism in progress in one of our city cemeteries, please call 911. To report a past incident, please call the non-emergency number, 977-9041 or Crime Stoppers at 977-4000. Other questions can be directed to me (via the contact form on the blog) or to Officer Weber at the Police Department (970-3280).

Please help monitor and protect these valuable resources.