A documented family gravesite on the Tashmoo Overlook that dates from the end of the 18th century has been disturbed, and a Tisbury man is facing charges of destroying or defacing a grave. Tisbury Police were alerted to damage at the gravesite by Tisbury DPW director Kirk Metell.
When Police Chief Mark Saloio arrived on scene on June 16 with Sgt. Max Sherman, they found a makeshift camp and evidence of destruction.
“Upon arrival,” a police report states, “there was a mirror, a golf club, a folding beach chair, a backpack, some shovels, rakes, a jug of water, and a Ziploc bag full of what looked like cheese with the label ‘parm’ on it. You could also see that trees and limbs had been freshly cut, and appeared to have been used to make a fire near the tree line of the gravesite. The headstone belonging to Seth M. Daggett was also dug up, and placed against one of the trees.”
Metell told police he saw MacAleer Schilcher at the gravesite the day before, and he received a gravestone image from Schilcher the same day, the report states. Metell noted Schilcher “was talking about this burial site at town meeting …”
According to the police report, Schilcher is being charged with destroying or defacing a grave. He was not arrested.
Among those interred at the site are Elizabeth and Seth Daggett, ancestors of the Packer family. Members of that family said they were upset at what was done to the gravesite. “I’m named after Elizabeth Daggett,” Liz Packer said. “It was upsetting.”
Packer said she spent a lot of time in the area as a child, and would pay her respects to the graves from time to time. “This guy maybe thought [this] was doing the right thing,” she said. “It’s not.”
Her brother, John Packer, said, “I have faith in Randy Jardin to put things back the way they should be.”
Jardin, a burial site expert for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), is named in police reports as an official consulted on the matter.
Ralph Packer, father of John and Liz, described Seth Daggett as a “landsman,” both farmer and fisherman, and also a husband and father.
Packer said he spoke with Schilcher over the telephone, but still can’t put his finger on why the site was meddled with. “What’s the reason? We don’t know,” he said. “We should respect the burial grounds of people.”
He said he hopes restrictive covenants are placed on the area to hedge against something like this ever happening again, and to prevent the land from being transferred.
Reached by The Times by phone on Wednesday, Schilcher did not answer questions posed to him about the incident.
Schilcher made repeated references to a gravesite at Tashmoo during Tisbury’s annual town meeting, in what appeared to be an effort to draw attention to its historic significance. He has also posted images of the gravesite on Facebook.
Sherman spoke with Schilcher later on June 16, after Schilcher called about the whereabouts of his belongings at the gravesite.
“We discussed why he cut down the trees, dug up a headstone, dug up the earth, and had a fire there,” the report states. Schilcher stated it was his ancestors that were buried there, and since the town was not maintaining it, he felt he needed to restore it to how it was originally. I informed him that he destroyed town property (trees) and dug up a gravestone. He insisted that the headstone was purely ‘decorative,’ and there weren’t actual bodies under it. I told him I would look into that aspect of his complaint, but then asked why he felt he could destroy another’s property, Schilcher stated that he lives by colonial law and that he is allowed to cut down trees in the woods and take what he wants out of the ocean …”
Sherman inquired if he felt free to take from the sea, why does he then have “an active shellfishing permit,” the report states. Schilcher “had no answer.”
On the evening of June 16, Sgt. Jeff Day was on routine patrol when he encountered the aroma of woodsmoke near the Tashmoo Waterworks, a supplemental report states.
Day called in Officer Edward St. Pierre for backup, and the two, upon exploration, discovered a man inside a copse of trees who identified himself as Schilcher, the report states.
“As we got closer, I saw that he had a campfire burning inside a metal box,” the report states. “He was cooking meat over the fire. There were freshly cut pieces of wood and a wood-cutting handsaw laying on the ground. I noticed several headstones inside the campsite. There also appeared to be unmarked headstones and footstones recently unearthed. These are commonly found in post-European-contact-period Native American gravesites. He was camped amongst these burials. The ground in a 15-foot-wide area had been disturbed. He had ropes marking the perimeter of the graveyard off. I told him that he cannot have an open fire here on town property. He told me that it was legal as long as he was cooking food, and it was contained. He told me that he even had a fire extinguisher. He motioned to a large 32-oz. or larger drink container.”
The report indicates Day called the fire chief to see if a fire was permissible and learned it wasn’t. However, Schilcher refused to put the fire out upon being informed he wasn’t allowed to have one burning.
“He began to read me sections of the Town Charter, from a 1906 book he had, to prove that he could by law have a campfire,” the report states.
Schilcher was described as “uncooperative” and “unreasonable,” and “trying to provoke a confrontation.”
Day recommended the incident be reported to the state’s historic preservation officer.
On June 18, Sherman noted in a supplemental report Schilcher posted on Facebook that the gravesite might be the first site in the Americas where colonists were buried with native inhabitants. It was noted this seemed contradictory to Schilcher’s argument the headstone was decorative and didn’t have the dead beneath it.
The entry goes on to allege Schilcher reburied a headstone in a different spot at the gravesite.
On June 20, the DPW posted a sign that said the site was closed and under construction. State and Wampanoag officials told police the gravesite was of archeological, historic, and cultural importance, and is also classified as a public cemetery.
Tisbury select board member Jim Rogers said Wednesday more awareness of the gravesite would be desirable. Rogers described the area as previously “overgrown.” He said he hopes folks could visit the site in the future, but “not touch it, not disturb it.”