MADISON (WKOW) -- Numerous headstones at Madison's historic Forest Hill Cemetery were damaged overnight, according to a Madison Police Department incident report.
An employee notified the police Wednesday morning after discovering the vandalism.
He found 36 headstones tipped over, with about a dozen suffering significant damage: either cracked or shattered.
Public information officer Joel DeSpain said many of those grave sites damaged were more than 150 years old.
"This is a very important place in Madison's history and obviously it's very important to those who have their loved ones buried there," he said.
The Jewish area of the cemetery and the section where Confederate soldiers are buried were both checked and neither was disturbed.
"We don't think that we have something resembling a hate crime or anything like that but we do have some people who got in there and perhaps didn't realize the value of that cemetery or any cemetery," he said.
At this point it appears monuments and grave markers were randomly toppled in cemetery sections 2,3, 26 and 28.
As a spiritual leader in the city, Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Beth El Temple, said he wanted to stop by to see the damage for himself and found the sight disturbing.
"This is such a sacred place, this is such a beautiful place that anytime you have cemetery desecrations it's an insult against the community," he said.
Police believe because the damage is so widespread and the stone grave markers are so heavy, the culprit is likely a group of vandals.
"People who commit these kinds of crimes, they're cowards," Rabbi Biatch said.
The Madison parks department, which owns Forest Hill, said the city will pay to fix the damage but there's no word yet on what that may cost or how long that process might take.
Anyone with information on the crimes is urged to contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers at (608) 266-6014.