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Vandals damage gravestones in Cloquet cemetery

Helena Saim, who was born Aug. 29, 1865 and died Sept. 15, 1924, had been resting peacefully for about 90 years next to her husband, Olaf Saim -- born May 3, 1863 and died April 30, 1925 -- until last month, when the couple's matching heart-shape...

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A line of grave markers was knocked down by vandals in the wooded part of Hillcrest Cemetery in Cloquet last month. A reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the vandals. Jana Peterson / Pine Journal

Helena Saim, who was born Aug. 29, 1865 and died Sept. 15, 1924, had been resting peacefully for about 90 years next to her husband, Olaf Saim - born May 3, 1863 and died April 30, 1925 - until last month, when the couple's matching heart-shaped gravestones both were upended out of the ground.

Charlotte Berg, 1921-2009, had barely begun her final rest when her large headstone was unceremoniously knocked down in a rash of nighttime vandalism at Hillcrest Cemetery above Pinehurst Park in Cloquet.

About 30 of the almost 40 downed gravestones were knocked over late last month; the others were done last year.

"It makes me so sick," said local historian Joe Peterson. "There were some big stones, too. It's heartbreaking."

While the families of the deceased are responsible for the gravestones, in many cases the family has either died out or moved away and is no longer in the area. Several of the toppled grave markers date to the early 1900s; a few are so worn from the elements they are difficult to read.

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Cemetery superintendent Royce McLaughlin said that only a few families have come forward to pay to have their family monuments set back up. A portion of the other costs will come out of cemetery funds and part from the cemetery's liability insurance.

Country Creations, a full-service monument company, is owned by a husband and wife team, Sue and Dick Larson, who started the business in 1987. Sue Larson noted that many times the families' homeowner's insurance covers the cost of picking the stones back up and repairing them if need be.

She was very upset with the damage the vandals thoughtlessly caused.

"They should be ashamed," she said vehemently. "Those are memorials to people's loved ones."

A small 1-by-2-foot gravestone can weigh about 120 pounds, but larger monuments can weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

Sue Larson noted that some families save up to purchase the monuments for a long time. Costs generally range from $2,500 up to $7,000 depending on many variables such as size, type of stone and engraving work.

The Larsons are hoping to bring in their heavy crane to begin righting some of the stones before Memorial Day weekend, but it will depend on the weather as well as how busy they are.

"There's more to it than just picking them up," Sue said.

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Dick Larson spent a few hours measuring the gravestones and evaluating the damage. It will cost an estimated minimum of $200 up to about $500 to upright the stones. The largest measured six feet tall. The price depends on how much the stone weighs and what needs to be done to get it securely back in place. Some are on hills, which can present another challenge.

Country Creations may need to get a larger crane to lift some of the larger stones.

The monuments that are tipped off their bases will be hefted back into place after a special bonding agent is applied, like a super glue for gravestones.

Some of the older stones are more fragile and were broken in half. To repair those, they drill a hole into the headstone and insert a metal rod to hold it together. The break will still be noticeable, a lasting testament to the damage caused by vandals.

"I hope they catch them," Sue Larson said. "They have no respect."

The Cloquet Police Department is actively investigating the crime and has extra patrols in the area.

The Cloquet Cemetery Association is offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. Anyone with information on the vandals can call (218) 380-1839 or notify the police department.

Related Topics: CLOQUETCRIME
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