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Saturday November 17th 2018

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Plaque’s theft is a historically large loss and a petty thief’s gain

TIMOTHY McCALL
Soldier and Pioneers Memorial Cemetery since 1858 had new fence and pillars erected in 1928-29 and plaques soon after as a gift from the Minneapolis Cemetery Protective Association’s (MCPA) Auxiliary.

Someone stole a piece of the City’s history. It happened on Aug. 30 or 31st, most likely during the night. One of the two bronze plaques that graced the pillars on either side of the Lake Street gates was stolen. The thieves were trying to steal the other but must have been interrupted. Some of the stone that held the plaque was chiseled away but not enough to loosen it.

The fence and pillars were erected in 1928-29 and the plaques added either at the same time or shortly afterward. They were a gift from the Minneapolis Cemetery Protective Association’s (MCPA) Auxiliary. The Auxiliary was a group of women from the association’s membership who raised funds for many of the structures that have been identified as contributing resources in the nomination that placed the cemetery in the National Register of Historic Sites. Two of the other resources include the flagpole and the cemetery’s memorial to pioneer mothers.

Mike, the cemetery’s caretaker, first noticed that the plaque was missing on
Saturday, September 1st, when he was setting up for the movie. He noticed a pile of debris on the sidewalk and went to clean it up. He realized that is was stone that had been chipped out of the pillar and that there was only an indentation where the plaque had been.

The police came and filed a report but the likelihood of recovering the plaque is small. One of the stores across the street has security camera but they are trained on their own parking lot and not the cemetery fence.

The story of the missing plaque spread quickly on facebook. The original post reached more than 76,000 people and almost 21,000 of them clicked on the story. Five hundred and fifty people shared the story with friends or colleagues. There were more than 100 comments: some expressed sadness, others expressed anger, many characterized the theftas “disrespectful” and questioned whether anything is sacred any more.

TIMOTHY MCCALL
On Aug. 30 or 31, 2018 one plaque was stolen from a gate pillar the the East Lake Street entrance. The current value for scrap bronze is about $1.60 a pound. Copper, one of the components found in bronze runs a little higher at $2 to $4 a pound. The value of a 90-year-old bronze plaque is priceless.

Someone forwarded the facebook posting to KSTP and Channel 5 News did a nice story about the theft at six o’clock on September 5th. (The story is posted on the cemetery’s facebook page). The Minneapolis Tribune ran a story on September 6th (also linked to on the cemetery’s facebook page).

Cemetery vandalism occurs somewhere in the United States almost every day. People topple headstones, overturn vases, and steal flowers and other memorial gifts off of graves. Spray painting graffiti, usually racist or anti-Semitic, is shockingly common. Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers has been lucky in recent years but that was not always the case. In the 1970s dozens of markers were toppled or broken, some of them damaged beyond repair.

If the plaque is not returned, it will likely be replaced with a similar, though not identical, plaque. Since the cemetery is listed in the National Register we are not allowed to add things that create a false sense of history—that appear to be old but aren’t. The difference may turn out to be very small (a date etched in the metal) and, of course, the color won’t be the same. It took 90 years for the bronze to turn a lovely shade of green.

It’s hard to say what motivates people to commit acts of vandalism but those who topple stones and paint graffiti are often young. Alcohol is a common factor, as well. Stealing metal for scrap is more likely done by older vandals. Although it’s possible that the thieves just wanted to steal something that they thought was cool, the most likely culprits were scrappers—folks who steal metal and sell it to scrap yards where it will be melted down to be recast. The current value for scrap bronze is about $1.60 a pound. Copper, one of the components found in bronze runs a little higher at $2 to $4 a pound. The value of a 90-year-old bronze plaque is priceless.

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