A small group of Missourians of all ages gathered in Columbia on Wednesday May 5th to learn about historic cemeteries and proper cleaning techniques before heading to William Jewell Cemetery where they got hands on experience. This group learned how to accurately survey a cemetery, its plots, markers, and monuments.
Cemetery markers through the years have come in all shapes and sizes as attendees found out in the presentation by SHPO representative Amanda Burke. The size, shape, materials, decorative carvings, and iconography tell about the persons status prior to death. For example, the depiction of a lamb represents that the person was a child.
Markers and monuments have been made from several materials over the years based on availability of materials and region. Stones used include granite, marble, slate and concrete; metal includes bronze, iron, and zinc.
This list of materials made up of stone and metal to the average person sound tough and durable and would not require specialized care and cleaning, yet that is not the case for the markers and monuments found in historic cemeteries as their materials are delicate and need to be cared for gently. One of the tips for cleaning was to use brushes that you can use on your palm and not scratch up your skin, meaning no metal or abrasive materials.
Cleaning efforts like the one that attendees preformed at Jewell Cemetery offer a variety of protection from the threats that rise against historic cemeteries including: humans, ecological, and environment. Humans through neglect endanger markers via increased erosion and chipping from metal wire brushes and tough weed wacker line or through purposeful vandalism where monuments are defaced with spray-paint or broken by tipping them over, but a well kept cemetery staves off this harm. Ecological and environmental are just how they sound. Plants like vines, moss, and lichen endanger monuments through soiling and stains, while environmental factors like water erode and crack markers during the freeze cycle, yet proper and regular care keeps the compounding damage at bay and preserves these places.
Survey and recordation efforts are essential to preserving the history of those who have come before us, with the hope that when we are long gone and buried in a small cemetery that our graves will be tended for and we won’t be forgotten.
More information regarding basic monument cleaning and other preservation efforts can be found through National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Association of Gravestone Studies, CHICORA Foundation, and Missouri’s State Historic Preservation Office.