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Spray-painting Vandal Damages Vicksburg Monuments
By Deborah Fitts
January 2004

VICKSBURG, Miss. - A 33-year-old Vicksburg man was arrested Nov 25 in connection with an extensive spree of vandalismthat included spray-painting religious graffiti on 15 prominent monuments and artillery pieces at Vicksburg National Military Park.

Mark Vincent Peterson of Vicksburg was charged by Vicksburg policewith felony vandalism after they alleged that he spray-painted graffiti on eight churches in the city. At presstime, federal chargesagainst him were expected to be filed shortly regarding damage at the park.

Peterson was being held by Vicksburg police under a $160,000 bond pending a court date in January.

Patricia Montague, supervisory ranger at the battlefield park,indicated that costs to the park from the vandalism could top$10,000. By early December, a private contractor had managed toremove the paint from all monuments and cannons, but two monuments,to North Carolina and Wisconsin troops, still bore a dark shadowwhere the paint soaked into the stone.

"You can still read it," said Montague of Peterson's repeated message, "Jesus is coming, repent y'all." She said the contractor"will try another technique" over the next six months, and see if the
heat and sunshine of summer bleaches the stone. "If not, it'll just be there forever."

Montague said Peterson was "living in his car" at the time of the incidents and likely did not have the wherewithal to compensate the park or the churches for the damage. She said he had been
dishonorably discharged from the army in March 2002.

"I don't think Mr. Peterson understands his actions totally,"Montague said. "In his mindset he feels he's spreading the Lord's word."

Peterson was apprehended at the park's Navy Circle, "staring at the cannon he'd graffiti-ed," said Montague. A park ranger was checking the area at 4 p.m. on Nov. 25 and recognized Peterson as the individual identified by witnesses, who had also jotted down the plate number of his 1994 Honda Accord. The park summoned Vicksburg police, who made the arrest without incident.

Park visitors first spotted the sprayed monuments on the morning of Nov. 20, apparently shortly after the vandalism occurred. Montague said the first monument she responded to was the park's biggest, a 62-foot-high memorial to Illinois troops dedicated in 1906. The painted words, "still tacky" to the touch upon her arrival at 9:45 a.m., were scrawled across bronze tablets listing the Illinois soldiers by name.

"It was rather offensive" to see the names dishonored, Montague said. "All those soldiers fought for something they believed in, and to have them demeaned and their monument vandalized was tough."

Montague next discovered the painted message across a 20-foot-high bronze-and-granite equestrian statue to Confederate Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, erected in 1926. The painted message, "Jesus is coming, repent y'all," covered the 16-foot-wide granite base. A telephone tip brought Montague to the park's Navy Circle and Louisiana Circle, overlooks on the Mississippi River with cannons and interpretive displays. The message was painted on an 1862 cannon.

A check of the rest of the park found the remaining vandalized monuments. Among them were the park's life-sized statue of Jefferson Davis, a bronze bas-relief of Confederate Gen. Dabney Maury, the large stone and bronze monument to Mississippi troops, monuments to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and North Carolina soldiers, and a relief portrait of Louisiana artillerist Capt. Toby Hart.

Identical spray-painted messages were also found at eight local churches, including four Baptist affiliates of the Church of Christ, a Catholic church, a Methodist church and a synagogue. Police believe Peterson also spray-painted his sister's home in Jackson, Montague said.

The private contractor had removed all the paint within days of the vandalism. But besides the North Carolina and Wisconsin monuments, trouble remained for the Jefferson Davis monument, where the cleaning process adversely affected a bronze plaque,Montague said, and restoration costs could total several thousand dollars.

Still, Montague said it was "such a relief" to have apprehended Peterson. The park is no stranger to vandalism. In 1997 religious zealots "anointed" monuments in the park with oil, leaving marks on stone that proved difficult to clean.

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