Seeing an old gravestone covered in dirt, lichen, moss, and innumerable other encrustations, stained, pitted, broken and off kilter, begging to be taken care of, makes us taphophiles yearn to grab our scrub brushes and pruning shears and get to work.
There will be time for many conversations in forthcoming newsletters about cemetery preservation. Let us start with something very basic that many laypeople and those new to caring for gravestones might not know and those who have been doing preservation tasks for years might have forgotten: cleaning gravestones damages them.
That’s right. Every time someone cleans a gravestone, they cause some damage, even the professionals. Stone and metal seem indestructible, especially when those who are cleaning them are diligently careful and use gentle chemicals and methods. The problem is that cleaning gravestones results in human-made erosion. Over time, with many cycles of cleaning, the gravestone is worn away. A little bit of the stone is removed every time we clean it, so we have to remember to clean in moderation.
Whenever you make a decision to clean gravestones, keep in mind that cleaning causes damage. Before you dive in, ask questions such as these:
Cleaning your cemetery’s gravestones is an important part of preservation. Cleaning them too often can have long-term disastrous effects that may create future preservation issues and cause the loss of important personal, historic, and genealogical information. Making cleaning a part of an overall maintenance plan is critical, but consideration should be given about the frequency of such activity as well and the types of stones in your cemetery.
(Please note that the photos in this blog illustrate problems common to any historic cemetery; for that reason, we do not identify the cemeteries where these photos were taken.)
Division State Archaeology
Updated: July 21, 2021