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Damage at St. Michael's Cemetery Under Investigation

Photo via Flickr//Visit Florida Colin Hackley

  St. Michael’s Cemetery in downtown Pensacola is the target of yet another round of vandalism.

This is the seventh case of vandalism or accidental damage to gravestones in the past 15 years. Ross Pristera, President of the St. Michael's Cemetery Foundation, says the markers are in the northwest section, and were damaged over the past few weeks.

“We had about nine headstones, the earliest dating from 1879 and the latest from 1903,” said Pristera. “Some prominent families' markers were some that were damaged.”

Pristera says the damage inside the 207-year-old cemetery is estimated at around $10,000 and considered extensive – in large part because the headstones are made of marble – a soft stone that breaks easily when toppled over.

St. Michael’s – a national historic site and one of Pensacola’s major tourist attractions – will be closed for several weeks while repairs are made by out-of-town experts. But Pristera says despite their best efforts, they won’t be able to restore the headstones’ original integrity.

“They have specialized tools, equipment and materials, but you’ll always see a joint and you’ll lose some text and you’ll lose carvings,” Pristera said. “We’ll always have to watch them. They’re going to be susceptible to wind, rain and frost, along with the other ones we’ve repaired in the past.”

More than seven thousand people – settlers, military, and some of the city’s past movers and shakers – rest in St. Michael’s. About 32 hundred are in marked graves, the rest are in unmarked plots. St. Michael’s and Tolomato in St. Augustine are the two oldest cemeteries in Florida. The foundation overseeing St. Michael’s has just completed a fundraiser for scheduled repairs to past damage. But now some of that money will go to this latest incident.

The cemetery is eight acres in size, and Foundation President Ross Pristera says that makes security a constant battle.

“We’ve been trying to add lighting, but as you can imagine running any kind of electrical lines or video cable lines is very difficult,” said Pristera. “Because we have so many marked and unmarked graves to work around.”

If anyone has information about the latest vandalism at St. Michael’s, they’re urged to call the Pensacola Police Department at 435-1900, or Crime Stoppers at 433-STOP. More information on the cemetery can be found at st-michaels-cemetery.org.