Yellow caution tape flapped in the wind, crisscrossing the entrance of a mausoleum erected nearly 100 years ago.
It’s the latest sign of vandalism at Green Lawn Cemetery, where more than 600 grave sites have been damaged in the past two years at a cost of more than $1 million.
The latest incident occurred on Jan. 9 when a man entered through a broken fence and damaged a mausoleum and eight grave sites before grabbing a fistful of American flags from the graves of veterans and lighting them afire. He tossed the burning flags into a brush pile — an act caught by a security camera — before leaving the cemetery.
“Fences are a lot like locks. They keep honest people out,” said Randy Rogers, a trustee on the cemetery’s volunteer board.
The cemetery has grave sites of five governors and five Medal of Honor recipients, including Civil War veteran Ovid Smith, whose marker was damaged by vandals on Aug. 14.
The 360-acre Green Lawn Cemetery was founded in 1848 and designed by a landscape architect to be a rural cemetery that would offer peace and tranquility.
Many notable people are buried there, including Samuel Bush, a grandfather of President George H.W. Bush; humorist James Thurber; and Cromwell Dixon, a 19-year-old who was the first person to fly over the Continental Divide.
The damaged mausoleum is where Al G. Field was buried 96 years ago. He was known for minstrel shows that toured for 46 weeks a year throughout the Midwest and East Coast and a lengthy tour throughout the South, according to Dispatch archives.
“The minstrel shows are a mixed part of our history. On one hand, they perpetuated a lot of racist stereotypes,” Rogers said. “On the other hand, they also introduced some black culture to white Americans when they had the black minstrel shows.”
Field’s shows were notable in that he also hosted a separate show with an all-black cast, Rogers said.
Field’s grave site was disturbed a few weeks ago when a vandal attempted to smash the glass on the front doors. The doors had been replaced with safety glass after a previous incident. This time, one spot showed cracks surrounding the point of impact.
On the back side of the mausoleum, shards of stained glass in purple and blue hues remain around the frame of a window. It will cost an estimated $3,500 to replace.
Cemetery staff members have not been able to reach any of Field’s descendants. It’s possible there might not be any. That has been a challenge for many of the damaged historic grave sites, which leaves the cemetery association to find the money to pay for repairs.
“Everyone is saddened and heartbroken by it. Everyone is angry about it,” Rogers said.
On Sunday, the Columbus Landmarks Foundation hosted a walking tour of the damage, with all proceeds going to benefit restoration efforts.
Rogers said later that more than 80 people participated and that someone donated $3,500 to repair the stained-glass window.
Columbus State Community College created a course this semester that has students mapping the damaged grave sites to help cemetery employees.
A GoFundMe.com page for cemetery restoration was set up a couple of months ago, and nearly $6,000 has been raised by that effort and Sunday’s walk.
Central Ohio Crime Stoppers, which is offering the $1,000 reward, has released photos of the latest vandalism in hopes that someone will come forward with a tip leading to an arrest.
“This isn’t the run-of-the-mill vandalism case. This is repeated,” said Kristen McKinley, board president of Central Ohio Crime Stoppers.
Anyone with information can call 614-461-TIPS (8477), submit a tip online at stopcrime.org or text a tip to CRIMES, or 274637, and use the keyword CMH.
Dispatch library director Julie Fulton contributed to this story.