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Stealing from cemeteries is never OK

This angel marks the grave of a Tucson infant who lived just one day.

This angel marks the grave of a Tucson infant who lived just one day.

During the 1980s, I lived in a small mountain community in Colorado. As a a member of the local historical society, I was soon involved with historic walking tours of the quaint cemetery that was just outside town.

After my first season, I documented the cemetery with my camera and published a self-conducted tour for the tourists who visited the area. The cemetery, which was founded shortly after the first gold strike in the district in 1859, was an eclectic cross-section of graves that included merchants, miners, community leaders, a scoundrel or two, at least one madam, and even an empty grave that honored a passenger who was aboard the Titanic when it sank in 1912.

In addition to victims of mining accidents, the graveyard was the final resting place for people who succumbed to typhoid fever, pneumonia, and lead poisoning contracted from a revolver.

Especially sad were the small markers on the graves of infants and young children. It was often said that the high country of Colorado during the Victorian era was not an easy place for women, children,and horses, which brings me to my point. Even after burial, the country cemetery isn’t necessarily a restful place as you might imagine. As I conducted more and more walking tours, I began noticing that monuments and iron fencing were vanishing throughout the site. The rickety gate was no deterrent to thieves. I began to wonder what kind of people would loot a cemetery.

Fast forward 10 years. Shortly after moving to Tucson, I walked into an antique shop near Country Club and Grant Road and I immediately saw three large iron crosses and several marble lambs and angels. As I looked closer, I realized that the crosses and statuary were pieces of cemetery art. When a clerk was asked about the items, she got extremely agitated and I was ordered out of the shop.

Since last autumn, I have received several letters asking about marble statuary. One reader claimed she had found a small carved lamb in “an abandoned cemetery” in Utah and had brought it back to Tucson because she had a perfect place for it in her cacti garden. Another letter writer revealed that while he or she was “salvaging an angel,” the statue broke off at the base. I was asked who in Tucson could repair the damage.

The time has come for a come-to-Jesus chat. Although this seems like a given, perhaps it should be repeated in print: It is never right to steal from a cemetery. Even though a cemetery might appear to be abandoned, it isn’t. Despite weeds and neglect, burial sites remain sacred ground. People who heist statues, Victorian fencing, urns and other items are thieves. If you have taken such an item, return it. It isn’t yours to keep. When a grave marker is taken, especially in older rural graveyards, it often becomes impossible for friends and family members to locate the burial spots.

You can also discourage this practice. The next time you see an angel, a lamb or an obvious piece of cemetery art at a flea market or in a shop, ask about it. Let the seller know that you disapprove of cemetery thievery. Perhaps, by working together we can reverse this vile trend.


What is spring without a saucy straw hat? This wonderful vintage hat is $22 at the Paris Flea Market, 2855 E. Grant Road.

Send questions to Larry Cox at contactlarrycox@aol.com. They may or may not be answered, depending on how much longer the Tucson Citizen is in business.

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