Mausoleum vandalized at Woodland Cemetery

Published 10:44 am Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It is an Ironton landmark and a popular stop on a local history tour. It is now also a casualty of crime.

Ironton police and Woodland Cemetery officials are investigating the recent break in at the tomb of Dr. Joseph Lowry and his wife, Sarah.

Vandals broke into the tomb and demolished the engraved front pieces that covered the caskets and broke a roughly two-inch-thick slab of marble on top of Joseph Lowry’s resting place. When that marble broke, it dented the copper vault, or sleeve, that contains the actual casket.

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The damage was discovered last week by a woman walking through the cemetery who stopped to peer into the tomb — not an uncommon thing. The tomb is a popular stop on the annual Lawrence County Historical Society’s Ghost Walk; it has long been an eye-catcher, owing to its grandeur and the story of Lowry’s mysterious death in 1933.

The woman notified Woodland Cemetery Manager Lee Morgan, who called Ironton police.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Morgan said. “They put the chain back through to make it look like nothing had happened,” Morgan said.

Morgan is not sure when the incident occurred—workers check each tomb regularly but the damage could have been done anytime within the last couple of weeks.

At first, Morgan and others had waited to discuss the incident. The tomb was placed under surveillance in hopes the culprit or culprits would return and could be caught. The culprit or culprits left behind a Pepsi can that has been confiscated by police.

Morgan thinks when the marble front pieces fell, the intruders may have gotten hurt and this might have preempted the criminal activity.

Morgan estimates the culprits did “thousands of dollars in damage” but is not sure at this point exactly how much it will cost to repair the tomb. One thing he is sure about is this damage was not the work of teens intent on mischief. Was this the work of grave robbers?

G.W. Carroll is related to the Lowrys, who had no children and therefore no direct descendants.

“There was a rumor floating around for 60 years they had valuables and money hidden, which wasn’t true,” Carroll said.

The idea that someone would break in solely for the copper is not likely.

“I had never realized there was any copper in it,” Carroll said.

A little history

The tomb was Joseph Lowry’s last sign of devotion to his wife.

“She never wanted to be buried in the ground,” Carroll explained. “It was built for her.”

Local historian Mary Counts, who has conducted research on the Lowrys, said when Sarah Lowry died in 1931, her body was interred somewhere in Woodland Cemetery. Counts thinks Sarah’s initial resting place was a holding vault at Woodland Abbey.

The tomb was not completed until March 1933 and Sarah was moved into it then. Oddly, Joseph Lowry would occupy his place in the tomb less than three months later.

Then as now, the large, ornate tomb, with its stained glass windows, marble columns and flower pots, is a showpiece.

Counts said her research showed the tomb of Dr. Andrew Lowry, Joseph Lowry’s brother, cost $10,000 at the time it was built in the 1920s.

But she has not found any records to show how much Joseph and Sarah Lowry’s tomb cost at the time it was built. Carroll said he thinks a tomb like that today “would cost a million dollars.”

A modern problem

Morgan said keeping people out of the cemetery after hours is a problem.

The back fence is chain link and workers frequently have to patch it when vandals tear it, sometimes making holes large enough to get bicycles through.

Reports of items stolen from graves are not uncommon at Woodland or any other graveyard.

“It’s a shame,” Morgan said. “They destroyed one of the most historic sites we have. There’s a lot of history here.”

Counts said she does not understand why someone would do this to a grave, a resting place for people who died years ago.

“Why, since 1933, was it bothered now?” Counts said. “Why after all these years? Even if it was money or jewels they were after, why can’t they leave the dead alone?”

Ironton Police Detective, Capt. Chris Bowman said someone somewhere knows something and he urged them to call and tell what they know.

“We take these cases seriously, very seriously,” Bowman said. “It’s a shame someone would desecrate a grave for any reason, theft or vandalism.”

Anyone with information may call the Ironton police detective’s bureau at 532-5606.