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Historic cemetery the target of vandals

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette A historic cemetery in Calumet Township has been the target of vandals, who are using family plots for party sites, and monuments have been defaced, headstones have been toppled, and graves have been used as fire pits.

CALUMET TOWNSHIP — The Hecla Cemetery has again become the target of vandals, where family plots have been used as party sites, monuments have been defaced, headstones have been toppled, and graves have been used as fire pits, including building a bonfire on a headstone.

Ruth Gleckler, with the Houghton Keweenaw Counties Genealogical Society (HKCGS), reported the damage to both the Houghton County Sheriff’s Office and the Daily Mining Gazette, after Gleckler and a friend, Marshall Wickstrom, discovered the damage recently while maintaining the walking the paths that spiderweb the four-acre cemetery.

The headstone of John R. Vertin, who died in April, 1888, at the age of 33, has been knocked over. Vertin is buried with his daughter, Carolina, who died in 1886, before her first birthday. Vertin was born in Krain, Slovenia, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The town of his birth still exists, but his headstone has been destroyed.

Little is actually known about the cemetery. According to the HKCGS, the cemetery established by the Calumet Mining Company, and later was continued by the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company, after the Calumet merged with the Hecla Mining Co. in 1871. The company continued funding the cemetery until approximately 1900, when it was it was leased to the Sacred Heart Catholic Perish, located not far from the grounds. The church paid $1 per year for the lease of the cemetery, which was last renewed in 1931, after which the cemetery went into decline.

While the HKCGS continues to research the cemetery, and identify additional names of those interred there, it is currently unknown exactly how many are buried there, and how many stones have disappeared to vandals, versus how many have been relocated to the Lake View Cemetery, when it became the primary area cemetery.

“After research into death certificates, remaining headstones and newspaper obituaries,” Gleckler said, ” we estimate over 800 burials.”

In 2010, the HKCGS purchased the cemetery, and deeded it over to Calumet Township, Gleckler said. Since that time, work has continued on clearing walking paths around the cemetery, as well as locating and documenting headstones. The Knights of Columbus, Calumet Township, Keweenaw National Historic Park, and local volunteers have worked with the HKCGS to keep the historic cemetery from disappearing, Gleckler said. The KNHP has awarded the genealogy society two grants, one being for a sign for the cemetery.

But while several groups and volunteers continue to invest money and much labor into the cemetery project, vandals continue to damage plots, stones, and monuments, Gleckler said.

Under Michigan law, willful destruction of property; memorials of dead; protective or ornamental structures; trees, shrubs, or plants; violation as misdemeanor or felony; penalties; enhanced sentence based on prior convictions.

Section (1): Michigan Penal Code, Act 382, states that a person, other than the burial right owner or his or her representative, heir at law, or a person having care, custody, or control of a cemetery pursuant to law, a contract, or other legal right, shall not willfully destroy, mutilate, deface, injure, or remove a tomb, monument, gravestone, or other structure or thing placed or designed for a memorial of the dead, or a fence, railing, curb, or other thing intended for the protection or for the ornament of any tomb, monument, gravestone, or other structure described in this subsection or any other enclosure for the burial of the dead and shall not willfully destroy, mutilate, remove, cut, break, or injure any tree, shrub, or plant, placed or being within such an enclosure.

(2) Prosecution under subsection (1) may commence upon complaint by the burial right owner or his or her representative, heir at law, or person having care, custody, or control of a cemetery, tomb, monument, gravestone, or other structure or thing described in subsection (1).

(3) If the total amount of damage is less than $200.00, a person who violates subsection (1) is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500.00 or 3 times the amount of damage, whichever is greater, or both imprisonment and a fine.

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