Countless visitors climb Lover’s Leap to take in its scenic view of the Hannibal riverfront and Mississippi River. On Tuesday, tourist Marty Morris of Springfield, Ill., saw something disturbing atop Lover’s Leap - the charred remains of the U.S. flag.
“I didn’t notice it at first,” said Morris, who came to America’s Hometown to do some sightseeing with three of his grandsons, 15-year-old twins and a 7-year-old. “I went to look at the marker that talks about 9-11. I noticed some black on the grass, and looked again. I saw a little piece of the flag, about 3 by 2 inches, and realized what I was looking at.
“It was just completely burned,” added Morris. “They had to pour some type of accelerant on it to do that. It was just melted into the grass.”
While Morris and his grandsons arrived at Lover’s Leap around 11:30 a.m., the Parks Department had been aware of the vandalism since around 8 a.m. when Andy Dorian, director of the Hannibal Parks & Recreation Department, was called by Parks Department personnel who were routinely checking the site.
“We were absolutely disgusted by the act. We have vandalism all the time, but a lot of us felt this really crossed the line. We were speechless when we heard that someone would do something like that,” said Dorian.
Dorian’s sentiment was shared by Lyndell Davis, Hannibal police chief, whose department is investigating.
“Property damage is not an unknown event. It happens in every community, but what made this take on a more personal note is the fact it is the U.S. flag that represents the sacrifices so many have made. It really boggles the mind how someone could have so much disregard for something like that,” he said.
While little evidence was left at the scene, Davis is hopeful that some leads can be developed.
“We do have feelers out. We are keeping our ear to the ground, so to speak,” said Davis. “We often rely on word of mouth; witnesses that might be willing to come forward and give us some information.
“If anybody has information or any suspicions, they can give us that information anonymously, they can come in in person, however they want to do it. We would like to have that information and follow up on it.”
The crime that was committed is not a federal offense, according to Davis, “for the very thing the flag stands for - freedom of choice and freedom of expression.”
Page 2 of 3 - No reward
At this point a reward is not being offered for information leading to an arrest.
“It’s something we’re going to talk about at an upcoming Park Board meeting. It has been brought up lately a couple of different times,” said Dorian. “We’re going to do some investigation on what other parks departments do across the country and then talk to the Park Board and see if that is something they’re interested in doing.”
The Parks Department has been investing in surveillance cameras for some areas. Up until now, Lover’s Leap has not been high on the list for such a system. Could that change?
“It’s too early to say,” Dorian said. “We have to be cautious so that every time we have vandalism some place we don’t overreact and go out and get cameras. They’re really expensive. We’ve had the flag up there for so long and we’ve never had an incident like this before. Hopefully this is just a random act of ignorance.”
Locking off Lover’s Leap at night isn’t a viable option.
“If you lock it, a car can’t get up there, but people can walk up into the park and now they feel comfortable to do whatever because they know no cops can come in. Nobody else is going to come in,” said Dorian. “The thought was with leaving the Leap open it would deter people because at no point in time would they know if a cop was getting ready to come up there or not, and they (city parks) are patrolled at night multiple times by the Police Department.”
The vandal used a crowbar to gain access to the lower of two rungs to which the flag was attached. A complex flag-flying system was installed after a 10-foot by 15-foot U.S. flag was stolen from Lover’s Leap in late August 2006.
“We thought we had it to where no one could ever get into it, but obviously that’s not the case,” said Dorian. “We are going to move it back up to the 12-foot rung, so hopefully no one can get to it without a 12-foot ladder.
“We’ll kind of keep an eye on it. If it happens again we’ll have to evaluate some things.”
A replacement flag was flapping in the breeze Wednesday morning. The flags flown on Lover’s Leap, which cost $261 apiece, are purchased by the Parks Department and Continental Cement.
Page 3 of 3 -
(Courier-Post journalist Bev Darr contributed to this story.)