IN RECENT WEEKS, the news out of Philadelphia and Missouri of the desecration of Jewish cemeteries has been heartbreaking.
Not long before those two incidents in late February, similar destruction took place at a Catholic cemetery in the city's Bridesburg section.
It's not yet known whether the perpetrators acted out of hate or bigotry - or stupidity.
There is no formal database to record vandalism or other crimes committed at cemeteries, according to the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. Different states have different sets of regulations.
Thus, the news about vandalism and crime at cemeteries is largely anecdotal, but is easy enough to find on Google.
Earlier in February, the Alton (Ill.) National Cemetery, a resting place for veterans, was vandalized.
Around the first of the year, police arrested three people, including a juvenile, for anti-Semitic graffiti at a cemetery in Scottsburg, Ind.
But as heinous as these recent acts are, there is another disheartening truth in the United States: We are not very good at taking care of our cemeteries.
In early March, authorities in New York City determined that soil erosion and other environmental factors led to the toppling of headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Brooklyn - not vandalism, as first thought.
Just around the same time that Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo., near St. Louis was vandalized, a TV station in Texas reported that a long-neglected cemetery there had fallen into disrepair and needed upward of $60,000 for a massive cleanup.
News accounts soon after the Mount Carmel vandalism in Philadelphia revealed that the cemetery had, in fact, been in slow decline for years.
Going back some years, the famed Congressional Cemetery in Washington, whose "guests" include J. Edgar Hoover, former Washington Mayor Marion Barry Jr. and Vice President Elbridge Gerry (whose name inspired the term gerrymandering), fell into such disrepair that, to help make ends meet, it was turned into a cemetery-cum-dog park, and charges hundreds of dollars in annual fees for dogs and their owners to stroll the grounds. It's so popular, a spot on the three- to four-year waiting lists costs $75.
Just across the Delaware River, the Old Camden Cemetery has been in disrepair for years; back in 2004, historians Hoag and Sandy Levins wrote of the "utter devastation" they found there.
Some cemeteries fall into such disarray - and without financial wherewithal - that municipalities are forced to take them over and spend public dollars on the upkeep of private property. With no one to tend the grounds, the grass keeps growing, storms keep ripping off branches, partiers leave their trash.
So, those are your tax dollars going to mow the lawn, trim trees, clean up refuse. (Those are your tax dollars, too, paying to investigate vandalism, thefts and other crimes at cemeteries, prosecute the defendants and house the convicts.)
Cemeteries often wind up in such a sad state because, unless they are active or have some sort of historic or other tourist attraction - say, Ben Franklin's grave at Christ Church in Old City, Walt Whitman's at Harleigh in Camden - cemeteries generally lose their revenue stream within two generations of the final burials.
One reason is that more Americans are choosing cremation than at any time in history. Only 3.6 percent of the U.S. population chose creation in 1960; in 2015, according to the Cremation Association of North America, that number was 46.8 percent.
For another, America is a much more transient society than a couple of generations ago, when people were born and raised and lived their lives in the same place. Now, because of jobs and other lifestyle choices, America is a mobile society. And if people are not living where there family members are buried, they have no vested interest in the upkeep of the cemeteries in their communities.
Franklin was famously quoted as saying, "Show me your cemeteries and I will tell you what kind of people you have."
We are rightfully horrified by the criminal, bigoted attacks on our cemeteries, and the perpetrators must be found and prosecuted to the full extent of the laws.
But we should feel pain and sorrow, as well, toward those whose loved ones' graves have suffered from another kind of crime - the crime of indifference.
Debbie Woodell, a Daily News copy editor, tweets about cemeteries at @TaphoFiles, and has a blog about cemeteries, titled Whistling Past the Graveyard, at taphofiles.blogspot.com.