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Subject: Cemetery squirrels nuts about U.S. flags

Cemetery squirrels nuts about U.S. flags-May 30, 2009

Rogue rodent discovered robbing graves of Old Glory

By STEPHEN TAIT Times Herald

If he didn't see it happen, Ron Ceglarek said he probably wouldn't believe it.

A squirrel -- weighing about 3 pounds -- got up on its hind legs, tore a small American flag from a small staff next to a grave stone, rolled it up and carried it up a tree to a waiting mate building a nest.

It happened not just once, but about dozen times.

"He plucks them right off," Ceglarek, superintendent of Mount Hope Cemetery in Port Huron, said of a rogue squirrel that is stealing flags. "If I didn't see it, and I didn't follow the squirrel, I never would have believed it.

"But it is a band of tree rodents."

Every Memorial Day, volunteers put small American flags next to grave stones of the about 965 veterans buried at the Krafft Road cemetery.

All the flags were undisturbed during a Mass on Memorial Day. But the next day, cemetery workers noticed the flags were disappearing -- the small, wooden staffs still were in the ground, but Old Glory itself had been removed.

At first, the cemetery's staff was confused. Then, Ceglarek spotted the thief in action.

"It looked like he had a little bandana in his mouth," he said of the squirrel.

Ceglarek has collected a handful of bare staffs. The staples used to attach the flags remain firmly in place with pieces of red, white and blue fabric stuck to them.

The squirrels' nest is in Ward L of the cemetery --a ward now conspicuously without flags.

"Clean as a whistle," Ceglarek said.

The nest, which is about 45 feet up a spruce tree, can be seen by an observant cemetery visitor as red, white and blue cloth drapes over branches.

"Maybe they are trying to tell us it is going to be a hard winter," Ceglarek said with a laugh. "Why use leaves when you can get flags?"

As Ceglarek and Celeste Silvers, the cemetery's office manager, showed off the nest Thursday, one of the squirrels sat watching in a bush about 15 feet away. The other squirrel scurried around a nearby tree.

Most years, Ceglarek said the cemetery leaves the flags up until June 14, which is Flag Day. But, he said, the policy will be revisited.

"This crew here," he said referring to the squirrels, "is going to hamper that, no doubt."

"We're going to almost have to take them out early," he said. "They have one ward almost cleared out."

The other option?

"Shoot 'em," Silvers said. "But you don't want to do that."

STOLEN: American flags are caught high in a pine tree Thursday at Mount Hope Cemetery in Port Huron where one of two thieving cemetery squirrels had placed them for a nest. A recent high wind scattered them among the tree's branches. (Times Herald photos by MARK R. RUMMEL)

EVIDENCE: Ron Ceglarek, supervisor of Mount Hope Cemetery, on Thursday holds a handful of flag poles from which two cemetery squirrels have ripped the U.S. flags.

NOT ME: One of a pair of thieving squirrels hangs on to a tree trunk on Thursday afternoon at Mount Hope Cemetery in Port Huron looking as if it might say, "I didn't do it."

STRIPPED BARE: A recently stolen American flag was ripped from the pole standing at a grave marker at Mount Hope Cemetery in Port Huron. A thieving squirrel carries them to his mate to build a nest. (Times Herald photos by MARK R. RUMMEL)

PARTNER IN CRIME: A second squirrel, an accomplice to the first, sits in a tree at Mount Hope Cemetery. The enterprising squirrel uses U.S. flags to feather its nest.

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