Vandals strike Jewish cemetery in Southeast Baltimore 256 headstones toppled at Hebrew-Friendship

September 23, 1991|By Peter Hermann

Terry Bush walked out of his home on the grounds of the Hebrew-Friendship Cemetery in Southeast Baltimore yesterday morning, preparing to cut grass or trim hedges.

Instead, he found row upon row of headstones -- many dating back to the early 1800s -- toppled and broken. He counted 256 headstones lying in the grass or in walkways.

"I was mostly mad," said Mr. Bush, caretaker of the cemetery for five years. "It was unbelievable. It was disgusting. I can't see how a person could do something like that."

Mr. Bush described the vandalism, which came just five days after the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur, as the most destructive event ever at the 13-acre cemetery. "Two years ago, 10 stones were knocked over," he said, "but we've never had anything like this."

For the caretaker, the destruction meant a Sunday with no rest. He fielded dozens of calls from family members wondering which headstones had been damaged. And Mr. Bush spent the rest of the time repairing as many stones as he could.

The older stones, made of sandstone, broke in half when they hit the ground. Mr. Bush said he tried to glue them back together but was only successful with a few. He tried to place other stones that were not cracked back on their bases.

Police say they do not have any suspects or leads in the case.

"I've seen this happen before," said Sgt. Robert Gillispie, a shift commander at the police department's Southeastern District. "You could have a lone kid -- if he hit it hard enough, he could knock it over."

Sergeant Gillispie said he is guessing that the vandalism will be traced to children. No signs of anti-Semitism were found, he said.

"There is a high wall, but kids can go almost anywhere," the sergeant said.

"Police will canvass the area," he said. "Sooner or later, we will find someone who will talk about some kids doing it."

Mr. Bush said he didn't hear anything Saturday night or yesterday morning. His home is located in the 3600 block of East Baltimore Street, in the southern part of the cemetery. He said the vandalism occurred in the north end, over a hill and near Pulaski Highway.

He said it would take a group of people to turn even the smaller stones over, adding that cranes are used to lift many of the larger ones. There are more than 2,000 plots in the cemetery.

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