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On destruction at Glenwood Cemetery: ‘I can’t believe what I’m seeing’

The Carrera angel placed to watch over six-year-old Ruth Guest, was broken by vandals. Helma Oonk took it inside the cemetery’s vault to keep the pieces together for repair.

A Carrera marble angel with a sheaf of lillies clasped in her hands now rests in pieces in the vault at Glenwood Cemetery.

It was just one of at least 200 headstones and monuments damaged and destroyed by vandals over the past few weeks – most notably late Wednesday afternoon when the bulk of the destruction caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage, untold heartache and disgust.

The Prince Edward OPP investigation indicates vandals were at the 145-year-old cemetery in Picton between 4 and 7 p.m. They’re asking for the public’s assistance to come forward with any useful information, or call Crimestoppers.

Cemeterian Helma Oonk, office and grounds manager, had already been in touch with police the week before, when during a scattering ceremony she noticed that concrete benches in a sitting area were smashed to pieces.

“I knew we had something going on in here with that aggressive smashing of the benches and the angel was damaged too so we notified the police. I was never expecting anything like this. I don’t know where to start counting.”

Over Glenwood’s 62-acre park-like setting there are more than 11,000 graves.

She hopes local monument companies will come to Glenwood’s rescue as they have in the past to help right, and fix, the heavy stones. The cemetery, she believes, does not have insurance that covers this type of damage, but it does have an obligation to maintain safety on the grounds. Otherwise, some families have purchased monument insurance when they purchased their stones.

Oonk said the work won’t happen quickly because of the extent of damage, and she hopes the community might also come on board to assist Glenwood with raising funds for the costly repairs, as well as continued annual maintenance of the very old stones that no longer have family members alive to care for them.

Canning pioneer Wellington Boulter’s impressive monument was not damaged, but a six-foot spire atop George Boulter’s monument now rests in a steep ravine behind – some 20 feet down, hidden by foilage.

Roger Bryant and Helma Oonk remove monument pieces from the roadway.

Hundred-pound chunks of monuments were scattered on a roadway near a heavily destructed area. Long-time volunteer and former board member Roger Bryant helped Oonk move them to the side of the road to allow drivers to pass Thursday morning to check on the status of their family member’s stones.

Eleanor Lindsay MacDonald, also a former member of the Glenwood Cemetery board, was amazed to find the family Fraleigh stone still standing, though all around it were destroyed.

Helma Oonk and Eleanor Lindsay-MacDonald discuss the damage in the graveyard.

“This is just awful,” she said. “This is unbelievable. I can’t believe what I am seeing.”

On her way back to her car, Lindsay MacDonald told Oonk she was making a donation to Glenwood’s repair fund and hoped others would as well.

The cemetery’s only revenue is from sales of graves, commissions from sales of monuments, bequests, some from the municipality, fundraising and donations.

“Every little bit will help,” said Oonk, noting the cemetery is not only a place to bury, but a place to honour the past, to take a sunny stroll and remember others who came before us.

The stories of some of those buried in the cemetery can be found in Margaret Haylock Capon’s book Hearts We Leave Behind – Glenwood City of the Dead. It is available for sale at Glenwood.

Among its citizens are Picton’s long-serving mayor Harvey J. McFarland; temperance pioneer Letitia Youmans and Dora Prinzen, a Dutch farm wife who hid seven airmen from the Germans during the Second World War.

But Oonk is still thinking about the Carrera marble angel she found last week, on the ground, at the base of its monument to Ruth Guest, a six year old girl who died tragically – following a haunting omen.

“I wanted to keep the pieces together so none would go missing, and it could be repaired,” said Oonk. “It’s a touching story you can read in the book.”

The Ruth Guest monument as it was before vandals ravaged Glenwood Cemetery. – Photo from Hearts We Leave Behind by Margaret Haylock Capon

When Ruth stood in front of the Jones Monument Company in Picton she was taken aback by a snow-white marble angel displayed outside. It was standing on top of a polished granite base.

She announced to her brother, Azel that she wanted it. He told her she didn’t want that; it was for a grave and you only get one when you die.”

Her mother, writes Haylock-Capon, was a devoutly religious woman and she was shocked to learn of her daughter’s desire for the marble angel. She let out an anguished moan and prayed to God to spare the life of her child.

The incident was all but forgotten months later but when the family was preparing for a family trip to Napanee, Ruth’s mother wanted the excursion cancelled as she had a vivid dream the night before, seeing six, coal-black horses drawing a hearse through the gates of nearby Glenwood Cemetery. She saw her daughter Ruth’s body in the casket.

While convinced the trip was against God’s will, mother relented and the family went to Napanee, and stopped for ice cream.

As they made their way back to the vehicle, Ruth’s brother Azel watched in horror as a big touring car appeared, and struck Ruth, tossing her small body into the air like a discarded doll.

Azel Guest, in his book ‘Strong Like The Mountain’ recalled standing at his sister’s grave in Glenwood Cemetery, and his anger at the senseless death.

He picked up a stone and “like David of old, slung my missile straight and true, to the head of the angel, where it grazed her brow, then clove five inches of white Carrera marble from her wing. The wingtip dropped to the ground below and buried itself in the still-soft earth of my sister’s grave. I felt peace.”

Later the cemetery caretaker noticed the broken wing and it was repaired.

“The wingtip is gone now, but it stayed in place for many years, before falling off in 1963,” said Guest.

Fifty-five years later, due to the senseless act of vandals, the entire wing is broken in two; and the angel’s head was severed.

“It can be repaired,” said Oonk. “I hope it can be repaired.”

Helma Oonk surveys some of damage at the cemetery.

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  1. No need to say how utterly gruesome this is, and that the community would like to see it all repaired/fixed. But keep in mind that the scoundrels need to be caught before they can destroy more or perhaps even that which is so painfully restored. No one is safe with these criminals around (and even if they are youths. I call this a criminal act); they need to be stopped.

  2. Bonnie Wood says:

    How utterly senseless and devastating. My Mothers family owned the Jones Monument Company. I remember hearing so many stories about her and her friends adventures at the cemetery when children. I have been there many times to find work done by my grandfather, great grandfather and my uncle and visit my Granny and Grandfathers site. These old ones were all done by hand and are so beautiful and skillfully done. The cemetery is so beautiful and peaceful to walk around. How could anyone possibly enjoy desecrating monuments to the deceased? A sad statement to the respect for others. If caught these people need to be punished not a slap on the wrist!

  3. We drove 3 hours just to actually see this in person and check out that family headstone’s were safe. This was so senseless. I do hope the guilty are found and punished. We left feeling heartbroken for all the damage that was done.

  4. Graham cobb says:

    I’ll say it again – cameras, cameras, cameras. Everywhere

  5. Tammy Bryant says:

    We happened upon this last night and called police. This is our neighbourhood. It’s senseless. Please donate if you can.

    https://m.facebook.com/groups/623926531294729

  6. Margaret Haylock Capon says:

    Hopefully the community will rally to help fund the needed repair work. It is heartbreaking to see the destruction that took place.

  7. Lori says:

    There are simply no words for this kind of senseless destruction. I sincerely hope that the guilty will be found, charged and ordered to pay the restitution costs.

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