Vandals scratch marks on monument only months after $1 million restoration

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 18, 2002

As vandalism goes, the damage to the Mississippi Monument is not serious. What galls officials at Vicksburg National Military Park is that $1 million restoration was just completed on the monument.

The Mississippi Monument was erected in 1909. The structure consists of a stone obelisk with bronze panels on three sides of the base and with a bronze shield centered in the front face below the panels.

By 1988, vandalism and deterioration from weather and the poor quality of the casting work on the panels had become so obvious something had to be done. After years spent trying to raise the money, the park received a $5,000 donation from a group of school children and contributions from the Mississippi Legislature and the federal government so work could begin. The result was a contract with Daedalus Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., for restoration of the bronze work and some stone work at a cost of about $600,000. In addition to that work, a lightning protection system was installed and the whole monument was cleaned.

The contract was awarded in April 2000 and the work was completed in November, 13 years after the decision was made to restore the monument.

That was the way things stood for almost exactly three months, said Terry Winschel, park historian.

“We inspected the monument on Feb. 8 and we found this,” he said.

To make matters worse, Elbert Hilliard, executive officer of the state Department of Archives and History, and other department officials were in Vicksburg and park officials decided to show them the restored state monument.

“It just stood out like a sore thumb,” Winschel said, pointing to the letters scratched in the lower right quadrant of the shield.

The first names Rachael’ and Dylan’ and the figures 2002 and 2001-2002 are clearly marked into the surface. Below the names are areas where the metal has been deeply gouged.

Winschel believes the vandals scratched in their last names, realized their error and tried to obliterate them.

“It’s not that much damage but it will cost several thousand taxpayer dollars to have it repaired,” Winschel said.

He said an expert from Daedalus will be brought to Vicksburg with the equipment and supplies to fill the gouges, buff the metal and reestablish the protective patina so the shield will once again match the rest of the bronze.

Winschel and Patty Montague, chief of law enforcement for the park, said an investigation has been launched to find the culprits and they believe someone local is responsible.

“We are getting good cooperation from the schools on this,” Montague said.

She said those responsible could be charged with a misdemeanor violation of the National Historic Preservation Act and could be fined up to $500 and sent to jail for up to six months. And as stiff as the penalty could be, it could be worse. Had the monument been 100 years old, as the Massachusetts Monument will be in 2003, the simple scratchings would have been a felony with heavier penalties.

“We hope the citizens will be outraged by this senseless act and that may lead to some tips,” Winschel said.

Montague said anyone who has information on who damaged the Mississippi Monument can leave it anonymously on her voice mail by calling 638-1870 and dialing extension 8055.