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Homeless man arrested for digging in historic Salem graveyard

Visitors in witch hats inspected old gravestones in Charter Street Cemetery in Salem.
Visitors in witch hats inspected old gravestones in Charter Street Cemetery in Salem.(Patricia Harris/Globe File)

A homeless man from Beverly was arrested in Salem Monday when police found him digging in a historic graveyard, officials said.

Brian Bennett, 26, was arrested near Charter Street cemetery Monday afternoon, police said. He was charged with vandalizing a cemetery and disorderly conduct.

Police didn't release any further information.

William Jeffrey Page, who guides historic tours in Salem, said disturbances in the town's oldest cemetery are not uncommon.

"People who are supposed to be taking care of the graveyard don't care enough to take care of it," Page said, adding that the graveyard, which dates back to 1637, is supposed to be locked at night, but rarely is. "I watch the graveyard get destroyed on a daily basis."

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Page said he noticed that a small patch of ground had been uncovered at one plot during his early tour Monday, at about 12:30 p.m. The headstone at the spot had been replaced by the family sometimes in the past 10 years; the original was buried there, as is customary, Page said. The digger had only burrowed about two or three inches deep, exposing the old headstone.

At 3:30 p.m., during a later tour, Page said he saw a man who was later arrested and identified as Bennett using "archaeological" tools — like a brush — to dust away the dirt in an effort to read the buried headstone.

Page said he didn't know if Bennett did the original digging, or only showed up later to look at the headstone.

Bennett was arraigned Tuesday in Salem District Court.

"The good part of what happened with this is now the gates are being locked every night," Page said. "If what he did actually gets the city to pay attention to the graveyard more, in the long run it becomes a good thing."

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Kiera Blessing can be reached at kiera.blessing@globe.com.