Village Cemetery Restoration

Outpouring of Support Restores Historic Village Cemetery!

Dozens of people turned out in the frosty early hours on November 3rd with a common goal: to help re-set as many unbroken gravestones as possible that had been callously cast down by vandals a little over a week ago.

The vandalism was discovered on October 24. Over 200 gravestones had been overturned, and many broken. Flags honoring veterans had been cast down by the perpetrators as they attacked stones in every part of the cemetery. The historic cemetery was established in 1813 and included many born in the 1700s representing some of the earliest settlers of the town. Approximately 2,100 people are laid to rest here.

The shock and outrage over the vandalism echoed throughout the community, and far beyond.

Within two hours of the first story about the vandalism, the calls, emails, and instant messages began coming in fast. “I had people from all over contacting us.” says Jonah Spivak, Communications Coordinator for the Town of Bennington. “They all wanted to know the same thing… how can they help.”

This outpouring of offers inspired RJ Joly, Director of Public Works, to suggest a volunteer day to re-set as many stones as possible.

Volunteers came out from all over to join the team from the Bennington Department of Public Works to reset the stones. From Vermont we had many people from Bennington including the immediate neighborhood, as well as people from Shaftsbury, Halifax, Pownal, Manchester, and more.

Folks from New York came as well, from Hoosick Falls, Schaghticoke, and Cohoes to name a few. The Bennington Police Department came out in force to help, as did members of the Buildings and Grounds Department, the Sewer Department, Town Staff, and the Town Clerks Office.

Special thanks to the VFW who came with an impressive number of volunteers and also generously provided grilled burgers, hot dogs, chips, and drinks to the volunteers. A terrific effort and shout out to Dan McDermott and his large crew that worked tirelessly and came with their own skid steer to add to the heavy equipment on site.

We are grateful to the town of Halifax whose cemetery commissioners Gary Rand and Linda Swanson came loaded with equipment ready to go. A team including Tom Giffin and Kevin Peck and a number of additional members from the Vermont Old Cemetery Association (VOCA) was a tremendous help both in terms of muscle and a wealth of experience in gravestone restoration.

So many volunteers that it’s impossible to name them all… but please know how grateful we are to every one of you. THANK YOU!

The results were impressive… every unbroken stone that had been overturned has been set back up. In addition, many broken stones have been restored. And it was accomplished in record time… by noon the work was completed, and teams of volunteers continued to straighten and fix stones that were out of alignment or had been damaged in previous years.

A team from the Civi Air Patrol (CAP) brought youthful energy to the early afternoon under the eye of their Captain, Jonathan Mercer. The CAP worked hard re-setting stones and cleaning the faces of gravestones that had been hidden by decades of lichen buildup. “Some folks believe teenagers may have been to blame for this” notes Mercer. “It’s important for the community to see these teens are here because they want to help.”

Some stones that were badly broken remain and will be restored during a followup effort scheduled for next May. If you are interested in helping with that work, you can contact the Bennington Communications Coordinator at jspivak@benningtonvt.org.

Sometimes a terrible story can have a positive outcome. This senseless vandalism revealed something important… the resolve of people to stand up together and do the right thing when needed. We are humbled and grateful to the many people and groups who have stepped up to show their care and concern for this venerable historic cemetery.