By Karen Cornelius
Graffiti scratched around the base of Vermilion’s replica 1877 lighthouse perched on the former museum property’s hill at the foot of Main Street was discovered by lighthouse keeper Tim Costello on Sunday, July 16. Any vandalism to private property is upsetting to the owner who has to make repairs, but to damage the lighthouse which is government property and emotionally belongs to all of us in the community was upsetting news to many. The possibility that the incident could allegedly somehow involve the Vermilion Schools staff and band program was even more unsettling.
Main Street Vermilion’s Lighthouse Preservation Committee chairman Reenie Rak was one of the people upset by the incident because she was so proud of this landmark and had led the charge to raise $40,000 for the special Fresnel Lens now lighting the way for boaters. “It’s so totally irresponsible. We’re suppose to protect our landmark, not destroy it.” She said it appeared someone took a sharp object and scratched names in the paint along with crude pictures of male body parts along the sides of the lighthouse.
She pointed out how popular the lighthouse is for people who take photos there and for tourists who are so impressed with the structure. Bus tours are coming this summer to visit the lighthouse and she wondered what they would think with penis drawings all over it. “We would be mortified if they saw it and it would give the impression that this site really isn’t worth coming to visit. It’s an embarrassment to the city.” She added children and families play there. “It’s a slap in our faces. It means so much to most of us. Whoever did this should be ashamed, caught, and asked to pay for the damages.”
Rak stated that it’s not clear when the vandalism was done, but the Lighthouse Preservation Committee’s unofficial keeper Costello saw it on Sunday, but did not see any damage four days before. So, it probably happened between Friday, July 7, and Sunday, July 10. She said thanks to Jeff Hoopes who has a vested interest in the lighthouse, he had some leftover paint from the recent face lift and painted over the worst, in your face stuff and names. The base of the lighthouse has to be totally repainted as soon as they can so it will take some money. At the same time, volunteers spent hours washing big balls of mud off the lighthouse facing the boardwalk deck which could be a different incident. “We just can’t allow our lighthouse to be a target for graffiti.” She was unaware of any connection to the schools.
When the Vermilion Photojournal contacted the Vermilion Police Department on Monday, the case and investigation was turned over to School Resource Officer Brian Beckwith. Unfortunately, the vandalism initially seems to have ties to Vermilion High School and its marching band and majorette program due to names being scratched into the lighthouse’s base. Officer Beckwith stated that he did talk to the advisors involved, the administration, and to two of the majorettes who all stated they had heard no rumors and didn’t even know about the incident. He did add that there had been some recent contention over possible changes for the majorettes and their showtime performances. The officer said he is just beginning his investigation and has more people to interview. He asked that anyone with information about the vandalism to contact the police department, 967-6116.
Back in early June, it was known that Vermilion Local Schools Superintendent Phil Pempin wrote an open letter to parents posted on the school website. The letter stated that he was saddened to hear that conversation on social media has resulted in the band and majorette advisors being harassed and receiving phone calls alluding to threats of bodily harm. The letter said this appears to be related to an announced possible change in the routines and organization of the band for next year.
The only change suggested was to the majorette program that would include more twirling and tossing during the half-time show. Making the change would give the majorettes more skills to enter competitions or pursue twirling at the collegiate level. The majorettes would still wear the traditional uniforms for the pregame show and community events. However, they would change into uniforms more suited for competition for the half-time show.
Somehow this proposed change in routine caused a great deal of controversy among parents and students and others. Some thought tradition was being thrown out, and the discussions crossed the line into threats, intimidation and harassment through telephone and social media. Now it appears using the lighthouse, a cherished community landmark, as a statement for someone’s displeasure over a school program could allegedly be the cause for vandalism. Or, the investigation could lead to something totally different. It’s too early to tell at this early stage of the ongoing police investigation.
Some of the graffiti is shown in the images below.