Spray-painting Vandal Damages Vicksburg Monuments
By Deborah Fitts
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
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
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
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