ARTICLES

They're Only Stones
A couple of stories about the local cemeteries and the importance of preservation.

Who's Henry?
A 47-year-old question.

The Forgotten Ones
Preserving our history.

WCCPS Invited to Seneca County
Assisting other groups.

McCann Documents and Confirms Information He Finds on Area Graves
Success in Medina County by WCCPS member.

Students Looking for Graves
Positive association with the College of Wooster.

Graveyard Preservation
Some suggestions by Lynette Strangstad.


 



Graveyard Preservation: A Look Back and Some Suggestions for the Future

 

Part of this article was copied with copyright permission  from Lynette Strangstad. 
(Banquet speech at the Portland  Conference, 1999) 

 

When I was a little girl, we were taught when we visited family graves we were always to walk around a grave, on paths or roads, and never to walk on the grave itself.  We held Memorial Day picnics and family reunions where we visited the graves and talked about the “old times”. I was quite young, but I remember hearing the tales about “this one” and “that one” and how they fit onto the family tree. So, I grew up caring for family graves, learning respect for the dead and gaining a sense of history from them.

Much of that kind of activity is lost these days as families become more and more mobile, scattering over the country like dandelion seeds in the wind.  The result is a disassociation of children from cemeteries in general – these graves do not belong to anyone they know.  This is probably a contributing factor in the increase in vandalism and desecration.

At the very least it contributes to a “lack of feeling connected”. Lacking this opportunity to learn to respect the past and to understand those dead as “ours”, children have also lost an opportunity to learn to respect what has gone on before. One wonders today if anything is still respected.

By bringing back both adults and children to cemetery preservation, we reconnect with the sense of respect and history which can be learned in cemeteries much as, in years ago, we learned it simply by “belonging” to our families.

Experience shows that, historically, every forty years or so, there’s a new revival of interest in cemeteries – at least in “fixing up the stones” or “fixing up the cemetery”. In the sixties and seventies, people began “restoring” their old cemeteries.

 Nonprofit groups such as the DAR or Veteran’s associations prompted many of these acts. Their main focus was on beautifying the site and they tended to follow the “trend of the day” regarding houses: while they couldn’t remove large sections of the cemeteries, they could – and did -  remove “unsightly” features such as an old gnarled tree, old plot corner markers, or maybe an old iron fence the needed repair. Instead, they put in walks and roads that were paved for easier access.

All these changes made sites prettier and more accessible to the public, but it also took away some of the historic value of the site.  By the early 1980’s we were still talking about restoring cemeteries, but, again taking a cue from the historic preservation and stone conservation fields, we began to talk seriously about actual cemetery preservation. We learned, among other things, to repair stones with blind dowels and adhesive. Slowly the message was getting out about preserving even broken markers.

In the 1990’s the National Trust for Historic Preservation acknowledged cemeteries with a Task Force on Protection and Management, and also a booklet on Preserving Historic Cemeteries.

Planning was and is probably a “harder sell” than trying to teach people about specific concerns in a cemetery. Dollars are always hard to come by and people want to see immediate results.

How have technical resources changed in the last decade or so?  Unfortunately, not as much as we’d like.  Some experimental work is being done using glass or aluminum or steel rods to hold stones together, and composites are being improved. We still have pretty much the same problems regarding longevity and repair of difficult breaks that we had twenty years ago. And it is still skilled, labor-intensive work, so it is still expensive.

So where do we go from here? I hope we can focus on public education. This not only could have prevented many disasters from the past, but could lead more professionals into the field.

+ It can be instrumental in colleges offering courses in historic site preservation

+ It can force politicians to examine legal issues, funding and care

+ It can teach school children (and their parents) the importance and the pleasures of old cemeteries. That might be our best tool for the future!

Talk to your newspaper or legislator regarding a family site to which the descendants are denied access or maybe one in the middle of a proposed development.  Make your voice heard.  Their voices are stilled forever – ours are not!