It begins with one stone in one cemetery
1. Get cleaned up!
Simply removing over grown weeds, uncovering ground mounted stones and bricks and assessing what was here - made a huge difference! Having the hands-on care from strangers who knew nothing of the Hooper Patterson family peaked curiosities for what this family meant to our hometown in the heyday,
While it seems small now because it’s all about how many hands you have rather than funding, it was no small undertaking. After uncovering 27 gravestones, one of which we discovered has been engulfed by a tree, we were overwhelmed by just how much history was being stirred up.
2. Clean those stones!
Caring for and fixing gravestones is a delicate business. While they are usually made of very sturdy material such as granite or marble, many were made with slate and other stone material that easily deteriorates with weather and time.
They are also a protected entity. You cannot simply put a gravestone back together without the proper procedures and materials.
Luckily, we had the help of Kurt Riegel, who gave us all instruction of what products to use on the various grave markers, how to apply the product and what to be careful of.
Here are a few tips from Kurt if you’re interested in doing this elsewhere!
NEVER use bleach or other household chemicals on a gravestone . This will cause irreversible damage to the stone and cause it to rapidly deteriorate
NEVER use shaving cream, corn starch, flour, or chalk on a stone in attempts of reading it.
NEVER use wire brushes, sand paper, or anything metal or abrasive on a gravestone .
NEVER use metal scrapers on a gravestone.
NEVER use pressure washers on a gravestone, this will definitely cause irreversible damage to the stone .
Kurt’s list of DO’S
Sweep any excess grass clippings and moss off of the stone with a soft brush.
Be sure that the stone is in good enough condition to clean without causing further damage .
If the stone is delaminating (separating in layers) or falling apart, do not clean the stone. Cleaning can further damage the stone irreversibly .
Spray the entire stone with water using a low pressure pump sprayer.
Spray the entire stone with D/2 (the ONLY chemical that is safe for use on historic gravestones).
Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
Spray the entire stone again.
Scrub the stone with soft nylon brushes and use wooden craft sticks to gently clean away all of the dirt and biological growth on the stone. Be sure to spray the stone with water very often as you gently scrub.
Use wooden skewers to clean out the debris hidden deep in the letters on the stone.
Once stone is completely clean, spray with water again to make sure the entire stone is free of dirt and growth .
The stone is now completely clean, and if done properly, will remain clean for several years to come .
3. Repair and restore the broken
Most recently, Riegel Restoration has been re-setting the tablet-style gravestones that were completely broken.
“The repair of broken headstones is a task that should not be taken lightly. This task takes patience, skill, time, and the use of the proper tools and materials.
Few headstones can be repaired in a day. Most will take days and some will take weeks before the headstone can be repaired with epoxy, voids filled, engraving restored through the infill, and reset to stand straight on its’ own in the cemetery.
Every broken headstone is different and although the repair methods may be the same, the series of tasks will be different. ”
— Cemetery Conservatores for United Standards, website