The morning after moving to Wheeling, I woke up early to drive to Morgantown for a cemetery preservation workshop. Beyond being a place of final rest for loved ones, cemeteries are invaluable repositories of local history. From who was buried there, in what location, what materials were used to construct the monument, to what was written on their epitaph, much can be gleaned from a visit to a local cemetery. I have long used headstones to corroborate genealogical research, especially when inconsistencies in spelling or dates may occur.
The workshop began with a tour of the grounds. Jon’s passion and expertise were evident as we walked around admiring the headstones. He explained different monument styles, trends, and noted obvious conservation work that had been done in the past. Members of Monument Cleaning & Repair, a volunteer organization in Morgantown, also shared with the group the conservation work they had conducted.
Following this tour, we gathered around a group of headstones and Jon explained the basics of safely cleaning headstones. He stressed the importance of using a cleaning solution appropriate for the headstone as well as soft, natural bristle brushes. Occasionally wooden sticks may be needed to clean out impressions.
After returning from lunch, we went into monument resetting. This process can involve setting the headstone to the base with a mixture of putties and lead wedging, or can just involve “shoring up” the entire fixture to counteract the natural settling or erosion of the ground.
The first project our group worked on was gently digging around a headstone with a base and placing gravel underneath so that it sat level. Then the headstone was placed over the gravel, and the earth around it was filled back into creating a more even surface.
The second project our group worked on was resetting. Using wooden wedges and old sections of fire hose as cushions, we were able to move heavy stone monuments, clean the contact surfaces, and use adhesive materials to reattach stones to their bases.
Shortly after this I hopped in my car and drove back to Wheeling. Although I wish I had stayed for the second day, the road trip was catching up with me. This workshop was a lovely “welcome” to service year in West Virginia!
Kate Wietor served as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member for Wheeling Heritage during the 2021-2022 program year.
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