Stone by stone, Westbrook is losing a piece of its history as vandalism destroys irreplaceable gravestones dating back 200 years in Saccarappa Cemetery.

Over the last weekend in September, vandals toppled 32 gravestones in the cemetery, some of which were broken, and stole a number of metal flag holders placed by the city at veterans’ graves.

The monetary cost to the city to fix the damage done by the vandals is estimated at about $8,000 to $10,000, according to John Emerson of the city’s Public Works Department, but the damage to the city’s legacy may be irreplaceable.

“Some of those stones were 200 years old,” said Emerson. While the city is required by state law to repair the gravestones of veterans, all other stones are the responsibility of the family. However, in many cases, no family is left to pay for repairs. Beyond that, the stones were crafted with techniques not commonly used today.

“The craftsmanship found in the artwork on these old stones could never be duplicated today,” said Westbrook Historical Society President Donna Conley. “And the epitaphs are a window to Westbrook’s ancestors’ feelings toward death and the hereafter.”

Emerson said the city wouldn’t be repairing many of the older stones, which would require the services of special craftsmen to try to duplicate the work, at too high a cost. Emerson said some of the stones couldn’t be fixed, because they were shattered.

The last time vandals damaged the cemetery, which dates back to 1827 and is the oldest municipal cemetery in the city, was just a year ago, when 80 stones were toppled. Before that, the cemetery was vandalized in 1994 and also in 1972, according to Conley.

At this point, the city isn’t really sure what it should do to limit the vandalism. The cemetery sits secluded on a hill surrounded by trees that hide it from the view of all but a handful of houses. It has a chain-link fence around three sides that it is too low to prevent entry and is even bent down or broken in spots from people climbing over. According to police, monitoring the cemetery is difficult because its hidden and because anyone inside it can see patrol cars coming.

“It’s a thrill because you can watch the cops drive by,” said Officer Peter Youland of the Westbrook police.

Westbrook Police Chief Paul McCarthy said the department has increased foot patrols in the area to get an idea of the traffic through the cemetery and possibly discover who’s responsible for this latest round of damage.

Police and public works are meanwhile collaborating on plans to make the cemetery harder to vandalize, although no clear plan is evident yet. The consensus among police and city officials is that a bigger fence wouldn’t prevent entry. Lights in the cemetery are a consideration.

“We will come up with probably a combination of things,” said Westbrook City Administrator Jerre Bryant. “Will we be able to guarantee there’s no vandalism? Probably not. But we’ve absolutely got to maintain the integrity of that cemetery.”

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