Category Archives: Caretaking

Headstone Restoration 1

By Joe Byrne

I decided, as a Lenten project, that I would restore some of the headstones at St. Peter’s Cemetery. The hardest part was deciding where to start. So many of the headstones here are in need of help.

Rather randomly I chose to start with headstones that are (I think) in the so-called “Potter’s Field” section of the cemetery, on the western perimeter.

This was the first stone I worked with. It’s the headstone of Rachel Moulder, who died and was buried in 1935. The work here consisted of moving and straightening the stone.

Then I attended to a stone nearby.

At first I thought it was just a pediment (the base of the headstone), without a headstone. But then I started digging…

Yes, I had to dig up Joseph Digg’s stone! The amazing thing here is that, even though the stone was buried for who-knows-how-long, the engraved inscription, and the carved designs, have not been worn away.

Here is the gravestone restored.

Here are the two stones together:

Though, in my mind, a grave-site is not restored until there are some flowering plants planted nearby. So I’ll have to come back, with flowers.

Next was the headstone of Charles Lee, also nearby. It was leaning forward at a 45 degree angle, and I suspected there was some important text, helpful in identifying the grave, buried in the ground.

Here is the restored headstone:

In some ways, the stone looked better before I “fixed” it. It’s dirtier now, with dirt continuing to obscure the text that was buried in the ground. But I figured a few rain storms and it would look a lot better. I should go back and take a picture of the headstone in a couple months and post it here.

Final note, the first two headstones had as the year of death 1936, and Charles Lee’s was 1937. So, at least in the “Potter’s Field,” it appears that people were grouped by the year of death.

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Headstone Restoration 0

By Joe Byrne

I entitled this entry headstone restoration 0 because I wanted to mention two other efforts at headstone restoration, done last year.

One is the headstone of Raymond Porter. One day a family came into the cemetery looking for Porter’s headstone (he was the grandfather, or great-grandfather). Since it was summer, and we’d had a lot of rain, it was swampy in this section of the cemetery (Section H) and it hadn’t been mowed in a while. That is, any headstone in that section would be hard to find. The family didn’t find the Porter headstone, even though they had a picture from a genealogy web site showing it intact. (Note those seeking graves of relatives in St. Peter’s Cemetery: come in the winter, before the green stuff takes over, which makes parts of the cemetery inaccessible, and makes many gravestones hard to find).

After they left, I did some sleuthing. I found Raymond Porter’s gravestone! It was at the base of a maple tree, with the stone (and inscription) facing the trunk of the tree, surrounded by tall weeds (mugwort). I removed the weeds and turned the stone around so it could be read.

Like the other gravestones, one other step is needed: some nice, native, colorful plants around the headstone.

And now the first headstone at St. Peter’s I ever restored: that of Greta Storm. All I did was level the pediment and place the stone (which was a few fee away, lying flat on the ground), on top of it. I used no cement.

A few weeks after my simple restoration, a leaning locust tree fell upon the gravestone. The un-cemented stone didn’t budge! Pretty good for my first time out.

And the locust tree is still alive! Here is another angle of the headstone holding up the tree, now flowering.

So not only did I restore a headstone, without the use of cement, but I also helped save a tree!

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Headstone Restoration 2

By Joe Byrne

Flush with the success of my previous headstone restoration, I went ahead with round 2. I found a headstone in the same line as the others I had restored.

It was the headstone of Emma Carter:

First a quick note on how/why I choose a particular headstone for fixing. My first criteria is the legibility of the inscription. For many of the headstones–particularly those carved of soapstone, limestone, and marble–the inscription has long since been worn away by the elements. That is rarely the case with stones, like this one, made of granite. So granite stones are more likely to get my attention, in regards to restoration, than non-granite stones. In my mind, it doesn’t make sense to spend a couple hours and quite of bit of muscular energy to restore a stone that is blank!

In my previous installment, I showed how I accidentally found a buried headstone that, once unearthed, was remarkably intact (Joseph Digg’s headstone). Well, sometimes you find something underground which is an unpleasant surprise (and I don’t mean skeletons!). Such was the case with Emma Carter’s headstone.

In order to fix the headstone, I had to fix the pediment (the bottom block on which the headstone sits). I did a little digging and tried to use a crow bar. It wouldn’t budge. I dug some more, and then more. That’s when I discovered that underneath the pediment (which was about 2 and half feet tall) was a skirt of cement that went down into the ground another two feet.

Not all pediments have such a skirt. Having one makes it much harder to fix. I’m guessing that a hole was dug, cement was poured into it, and the pediment lowered into the pool of wet cement. If so, they lowered it crooked, so that the headstone had to be placed upon the pediment at an angle (and the ground shifted perhaps). Eventually and inevitably the headstone fell off.

I don’t know if the cement skirt was originally part of the grave. I haven’t dug up enough headstones to know if that’s common or rare. It might have been part of a previous restoration effort. If so, as in some cases, in the name of stability and longevity, the “restoration” made things worse. That is why I am loathe to use cement when I fix headstones. If I set them up straight, and they’re heavy enough, that should be enough. And if they get knocked down, I can pretty easily put them back up. Not so with stone with a crooked pediment set in cement.

That’s why I gave up on Emma Carter’s stone for the moment. I will have to come back and do a lot more digging. In the meantime, I set Emma Carter’s stone upright, nearby.

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Snowy Day at St. Peter’s Cemetery

Last week we had a bit of snow in the cemetery. It always makes for a picturesque scene. Here are some pics.

The first three pics were of headstones. This is a snow covered pile of branches. Eventually the branches will be put through a chipper for mulch. But right now it’s a lodge for small animals!

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