Historic cemetery vandalized

Published 10:00 am Saturday, February 1, 2020

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SALEM — Vandals are continuing to desecrate historic cemeteries in rural Lee County. In acts of destruction, they have toppled 19th century obelisks and vandalized a shed recently built in an Eagle Scout project.

The new shed was built to replace one that had been burned in the recent past.

A possible motive for the incident is a debunked wives’ tale that the shed was over a witch’s grave. In reality, it marks the final resting place of a child.

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In the past couple of years, two historic cemeteries have been hit by vandals, one at County Line Baptist Church between Salem and Beulah and another at Flint Hill near Auburn.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones has said that such actions will not be tolerated and that the vandals will face serious consequences if identified.

“The Sheriff’s Office is concerned about the vandalism that has been visited upon cemeteries in rural areas of Lee County,” he said, according to information from the Lee County Cemetery Preservation Commission. “This is a matter of basic respect. Families should not have to worry about the final resting places of their loved ones being disturbed. We appreciate the work being done by the Lee County Cemetery Preservation Commission to identify and to help us apprehend anyone involved in these offenses.”

Preservation Commission member Edna Ward contacted The Valley Times-News in an effort to inform people in Chambers County. The dead in those two cemeteries have descendants scattered throughout the east central Alabama region. Ward said the most recent attack took place on New Year’s Eve.

“Why on earth people would want to cause not only destruction, but also to bring pain to others by doing something like vandalizing a tomb sure does baffle me,” said Lindsey Holland, a volunteer for Cemetery Preservation Commission.

She has adopted the preservation of the Flint Hill cemetery as a personal project.

Her goal is to see it brought back to its original pristine condition.

The County Line Baptist Church Cemetery is located off Lee Road, 252, also known as the Mountain Springs Road.

According to Ward, over the years some people have been duped into believing it to be a witch’s road and that the grave shed in the cemetery marks a witch’s grave. It’s thought that the latest incident of vandalism took place around 2 a.m. CST on New Year’s morning.

Ward said there’s a video showing what appears to be four men and a woman poking around the cemetery with flashlights and vandalizing the new shed.

After the original shed was burned to the ground several years ago, a Lee County Boy Scout made the building of an identical shed his Eagle project.

This required finding old photos of it, determining lengths and angles, purchasing the supplies needed to rebuild it and organizing the work that needed to be done.

And he had to do that along with his high school studies. The finished shed was put back over its original site last summer.

Before the Scout could receive proper recognition for what he’d done with his Eagle ceremony, vandals wrecked it.

Sadly, the cemetery bears evidence of additional vandalism. There are broken grave markers throughout the cemetery.

Some of it could have happened naturally due to age — the cemetery goes back to 1838 — but s0me of it looks deliberate.

Some stacked-rock graves were destroyed. Such graves marked the burial sites of highly respected people.

Ward said the Cemetery Preservation Commission, volunteers and friends have been researching families who lived in the area and will soon publish a book on the subject. Proceeds from sales of the big will go toward making much-needed repairs to the cemetery.

“Many of our Lee County Christian pioneers are at rest there,” she said.

“From these pioneers are many descendants who today live in Lee County and the surrounding area.”

“Destroying the property of others and vandalizing graves are crimes. Don’t do it,” Ward said.

“The Lee County Sheriff’s office will arrest you. If you caught trespassing in, or desecrating, a cemetery you will be prosecuted and convicted. Be advised that the Lee County Cemetery Preservation Commission will ask the Lee County district attorney to seek restitution. Any trespasser or vandal who reads this should be forewarned. We strongly suggest you rethink the consequences of your deplorable acts. Stop this criminal behavior and allow those who came before us to rest in peace.”

The vandalism in the Flint Hill Cemetery near Salem involved the toppling of the gravestone of Samuel Jones (1798-1881), a Lee County pioneer who fathered 14 children, His grandson, W.S. “Buck” Jones, was the sheriff of Lee County and was killed in the line of duty in 1932. The Lee County Detention Center is named in his honor.