MIDDLEPORT — Visitors and participants of the Ohio Local History Alliance regional meeting hosted by the Meigs County Historical Society and the Chester Shade Historical Association got tips on preserving cemeteries and old headstones.
Jay Russell, a vice president with the Meigs County Pioneer and Historical Society, has been cleaning, preserving and restoring cemeteries for many years. Saturday morning he gave a lecture about the dos and don’ts of cleaning and repairing headstones.
Russell’s first rule in cleaning a headstone is to “do no harm”. He says to be as gentle as possible and to start with clean water and a soft bristled brush
“Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing,” Russell said. If a stone is too damaged, trying to repair it may only make it worse. Sometimes recording the information on the stone is the only option.
Before putting anything except water on the stone, it is important to identify the stone type. Russell said headstones have been made out of slate but usually in New England cemeteries; soapstone is common in the South; sandstone was common but its fine grain often flakes; limestone is less common but was still used; marble is common because it’s easy to carve; and granite is a common stone in recent years and it holds up better than others.
Different stone types will react to different cleaning materials. Some materials will get in the stones pores and will cause a discoloration or deterioration.
“To me, that stone is a living thing,” Russell said because water and materials can move through the headstone.
Russell has taken apart larger headstones that were leaning over. Some of the older stones could have been three tiers high. He will dismantle the top from the base and level the area before properly resetting the stones.
Russell urges individuals to contact a headstone cleaning and preserving professional before applying materials to the stone. He also encourages people to contact the owners of the cemeteries to ensure they have proper grass cutting practices so the stones are not damaged. Russell said there are three types of cemetery owners: townships; municipalities such as cities and villages but not counties; and private associations such as churches and family cemeteries on private properties.
Kayla Hawthorne is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.