GREENWOOD HEIGHTS — Repair work has started on the 51 grave markers that were wrecked by vandals at Green-Wood Cemetery, and is a painstaking process that will likely take months to complete, cemetery officials said.
Restoration experts are piecing together shattered marble crosses, smashed arches and other monuments that were damaged when vandals tore a path of destruction through Green-Wood Cemetery last week. Repairs will likely cost more than $100,000 to complete.
Police said Monday they haven't made any arrests in connection with the heartless rampage, which officials say is the worst case of vandalism they can remember at the landmark cemetery, where nearly 600,000 people are buried.
At least one of the vandals was caught on video by a hidden surveillance camera tucked inside the 478-acre graveyard. Cemetery officials said Friday that they've beefed up security since the attack, adding extra night patrols to monitor the sprawling grounds.
Officials believe the vandals hopped a fence near Fifth Avenue and 36th Street then traveled roughly half a mile through the cemetery defacing elegant monuments that commemorate the dead. The incident happened sometime between 7 p.m. Aug. 20 and 7 a.m. Aug. 21.
"It hurts," Ken Taylor, the cemetery's vice president of operations, said of the vandalism. "It seems they did this with a vegeance that we haven't seen before."
Taylor said he believes the act was a hate crime, but declined to explain why, because police are still investigating. He added however that there didn't seem to be any pattern or theme to the vandalism; graves from a specific ethnic or religious group were not targeted, he said.
The NYPD did not respond immediately for comment on whether the department's Hate Crimes unit is investigating the destruction.
The cemetery doesn't own the damaged monuments — they're technically the property of the families that bought them decades ago — and isn't legally obligated to repair them, but officials say they'll restore the disfigured graves.
Some of the repairs can be made at the damaged graves, but in some cases the defaced monuments will be moved to a workshop where they'll be reassembled by expert restorers. The cemetery resumed its normal schedule of events, including a celebration last Sunday marking the anniversary of the Revolutionary War's Battle of Brooklyn.
The cemetery added a donation button to the front page of its website to collect money for the repairs. Green-Wood maintains a special fund for grave maintenance, but it's usually used to spruce up the graves of the cemetery's more prominent residents, such as New York Times founder Henry J. Raymond and Henry Chadwick, who's known as the "father of baseball."
The vandals struck the 19th Century crypt of the Bourne family, where a one-time president of the Singer Sewing Co. is buried in a tomb designed by notable architect Ernest Flagg. Flagg also designed Scriber's bookstore on Fifth Avenue.
But much of the vandalism affected graves whose names have almost worn off their tombstones.
Taylor, who's worked at the cemetery for 45 years, said the cemetery has a moral obligation to care for all of its final resting spots — even those whose life stories have been lost to history.
"Most of these families are gone," Taylor said. "There's no one to pay for the damage. There's no one here to worry about this for them. A funeral director has the deceased for three days. We have them forever."
He added, "They were all famous to someone."