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Graves, Signage Damaged at Historic Black Elsmere Cemetery

The Mary E. Smith Memorial Cemetery in Elsmere was vandalized with tombstones and signage damaged.

Some gravestones were broken, and Elsmere Police characterized some of the spray-painted imagery as "anarchist symbols."

The cemetery is an historic resting place for African-Americans. The damage happened in "early December", according to a news release about the actions on Thursday.

Elsmere Police Chief Joe Maier said that vandals toppled approximately thirty headstones from their bases and defaced some of the headstones with black spray paint. The vandals sprayed-painted a capital A surrounded by a circle - uniformly recognized as an anarchist symbol - on the cemetery’s entrance sign and on some tombstones along with other graffiti. 

“The use of anarchist symbols in connection with vandalism in a historic black cemetery doesn’t really make sense,” said Elsmere City Administrator Matt Dowling. “Most anarchists usually are not racists, but instead believe in social equality and have a distrust of wealth, privilege, and government.” 

For that reason, city officials believe juveniles may be behind the vandalism, but that doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the offense, they say.  

“Regardless of whether this crime was perpetrated by a juvenile, anarchist, or racist, it has no place in the City of Elsmere,” said Mayor Marty Lenof. “Our city has a long history as one of the most diverse communities in Northern Kentucky and this criminal act is not just an affront to people of color or those who have loved ones buried in this cemetery but to all people who live in our city.” 

The cemetery, which is located at 1120 Martin Luther King Avenue, is operated by a volunteer board of directors. Formally founded in 1950, it’s one of the first African-American cemeteries in Northern Kentucky. Board members believe the vandalism occurred sometime after Dec. 3. 

Crystal Madaris, secretary of the cemetery board, said that she will be submitting a claim to the cemetery’s insurance company to see if the vandalism is covered by its insurance policy. Madaris said the cemetery board also plans to reach out to Duke Energy to see if it can place additional streetlights near the cemetery.  

Dowling said city officials have met with some of the cemetery’s board members, listened to their concerns, and discussed how they might be able to work together to prevent similar occurrences in the future.  

“Unfortunately, at this point, we have no witnesses to the vandalism and we have not found any video footage recording any evidence of the perpetrators approaching the cemetery or committing this crime,” Chief Maier said.  

Maier said that Elsmere police is continuing its investigation and is asking that anyone with information about it to call the police department at 859-342-7344.  

-Staff report

Photos provided by Elsmere Police

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