Frankford — On July 30, John “Scotty” Gibson started his day as groundskeeper for Adath Jeshurun Cemetery at 6 a.m. He left his house, located on the grounds, and looked around — only to find a group of headstones toppled over — and then another pile, and another.
After inspecting the entire graveyard, Gibson counted 124 desecrated headstones, one of which was damaged.
The 75-year-old Gibson was shocked, and emphasized that nothing this severe has happened in his decades of working there.
The cemetery, located on Bridge Street in Frankford, is usually quiet and peaceful, Gibson said. Of the estimated 10,000 plots, some families buried in the cemetery date back as far as the 1860s, but Gibson said there are only about 10 burials a year now.
Robert Friedman, executive director of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, said he thinks the perpetrators were a group of kids from the area.
“We don’t think it was a hate crime because there was no graffiti,” he said. “They didn’t break anything aside from toppling them over.”
Although this situation did get out of hand, he said it was heartwarming to hear from other funeral homes in the community reaching out to lend their support.
Despite repeated calls to the 15th District of the Philadelphia Police Department Northeast Detective Division, no information on the perpetrators or the case itself was provided.
Gibson said he and other caretakers are working quickly to get the headstones back in place.
John Gardener, groundskeeper at neighboring Mount Sinai Cemetery, has been putting the stones back in their upright positions. He lifts the small ones — each weighing about 100 pounds — himself, but uses a crane to pick up the heavier 2,000-pound markers.
Gardener has been a groundskeeper at Mount Sinai for about eight years. He said something similar to this situation happened a few years ago, when about 50 gravestones in Mount Sinai Cemetery were knocked over in a similar fashion.
Of all 124 toppled stones, Gardener worked single-handedly to put them back up — some just needed a push while others needed a special sealant to mold the base and the headstone back together — and he only had about 26 more to fix as of Tuesday morning.
Gardener said a handful of people came to the cemetery this past weekend to check on their respective family plots, making sure everything was in order.
Arm in arm, George and Gail Goldberg slowly threaded their way through the plots to check on Gail’s parents’ headstone after hearing about the vandalism.
Fortunately, the gravestone was unscathed. Gail Goldberg said they usually visit the gravesite a couple times a year, and they want to see more security in these cemeteries to prevent future incidents.
Adath Jeshurun Cemetery currently does not have any security patrolling the grounds during the day or night, nor do the neighboring cemeteries.
Although Gardener is helping at Adath Jeshurun Cemetery, Gibson is currently its only employee. He has worked there for 44 years, starting as a grass cutter when he moved to Philadelphia from Glasgow, Scotland, in 1971.
Gibson still mows the lawn, trims the bushes and keeps the headstones clean, working for about eight hours each day.
The cemetery is a nonprofit organization, and Gibson said the estimated repairs will cost around $3,500.
Gibson said he will continue to do the best he can do at maintaining the grounds, including making sure all the headstones are fixed and upright.
“I’m doing something that people who are dead can’t do for themselves,” Gibson said.
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