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A Cemetery Preservation Guide

A Cemetery Preservation Guide

I am often contacted by folks at the very beginning stages of their very first cemetery preservation project. And in each case I am asked the same question: What do I do?

I have put this Guide together to answer some of those basic questions and provide beginners with an outline for their project. Not everything included here will apply to every situation.

This is not a “How-To” article. It is intended only as a guide. Proper training with experienced conservators is vital even before assessments begin. See my Cemetery Preservation Workshops Facebook page for scheduled training opportunities.

The First Step

Obviously, the first thing to do is choose a cemetery for preservation. The motivation will vary from project to project and from group to group. A group of family members may decide to take care of an old family burial ground. A local historical society would focus more on historic significance to the community.

Getting Permission

Once you have picked the cemetery you are interested in you need to determine who owns or is responsible for the property the cemetery is on. It can be the owner of the surrounding property, a cemetery association, a church, a township trustee or some other level of government.

Determining the owner or responsible party may be as easy as knocking on the door of the nearest house and asking. It may require a trip to the county courthouse to look at land deeds to see whom the property is deeded.

Once the owner or responsible party is determined you need to get permission from that person before any actual work can begin. It is always a good idea to get this permission in writing and always have a copy on site whenever anyone is working. Also give a copy to the land owner.

Also, once you have written permission you should obtain any local or state permits that may be required. These permits are not always required and the laws vary from state to state. As with the written permission, have copies of any permits on site while work is in progress.

Training

Certainly before any work on grave markers begins, and really before assessments are undertaken, those involved should receive some training from someone with experience. There are very good articles and videos online, but grave marker preservation is something that requires some “on the job training.” Please see the links at the beginning of this article for training opportunities. I highly recommend reading A Graveyard Preservation Primer by Lynette Stragnstad.

Historic Research and Cemetery Assessment

Now that permission and permits are in place and training at least started it is time to do any historic research into the cemetery that needs to be done. This wont always be necessary as the information may be readily available at the local historical society. If plot maps or other cemetery records are available make a copy to work with. These are rare in older cemeteries and unlikely for family cemeteries. But if they exist they can help you ensure grave markers are where they belong. A history of the site is not necessary for preservation of the grave markers, but can offer useful information if you know or suspect a grave marker is not at the proper location.

Assessing the overall cemetery is necessary to determine if any work needs to be done before the needs of the grave markers are addressed. If trees need to be removed this should be done before any stone preservation work is accomplished. This limits the risk of further damage to a reset or repaired grave marker.

While making this initial assessment be sure to take plenty of photographs from different vantage points. Document on paper your full assessment of the cemetery. Include things such as trees, especially if they are a part of the historic fabric of the site or need to be trimmed or removed. Include condition of fences, gates, signs, paths, roads, anything in the cemetery.

If your cemetery has structures such as chapels or mausoleums be sure to include them in your general assessment.

Once this general assessment has been completed you can begin to carefully remove any brush that may need to be removed. If your site is not overgrown then you get to skip this step.

Stone Assessment 

An accurate assessment of each grave marker is important in ensuring the appropriate methods and treatments are used. Two stones set next to each other and looking identical other than the name and dates can actually age at very different rates.

Master Plan

Once all assessments are complete it is time to create a Master Plan. Your Master Plan should prioritize each item that needs to be addressed. It should also include your long range plan for maintaining the site long after preservation work is done. This long term maintenance should address issues from what to do if a stone is damaged to regular mowing and other landscaping.

As mentioned above, any tree trimming or removal should be done before work on grave markers begins. Stone preservation should be prioritized in three general categories:

  • Safety issues. Multi-piece stacked stones often become unstable over time and become a real hazard to life should one of these monuments fall on someone. I see articles every now and again about someone being injured or killed by a falling monument. This can also open the owner or responsible party to litigation should someone be injured or killed. The first grave markers to reset or repair are those that pose these potential threats. Most often it will be the stacked monuments that are the biggest concern, but even smaller tablet markers could cause injury.
  • Stones on the ground. The next group of grave markers to deal with are those that have already fallen over and are flat on the ground, or in some cases, sunken beneath the grounds surface. Also include markers that have been leaned against a nearby marker, tree or fence. Getting these markers off the ground stops lawn mowers from driving over them or people walking on them and damaging them further.
  • Everything else. Finally, whatever is left that needs to be addressed, keeping in mind some markers are fine just as they are. But during this portion of the work you can straighten leaning stones that weren’t safety issues, clean markers that need only to be cleaned and any other stone issue that remains.

Cleaning Grave Markers

Because it is relatively quick and easy to teach someone the basics of cleaning grave markers it has become a very popular thing to do. The problem is many people are cleaning for the sake of cleaning, not because there is an actual need to clean the marker. Not every stone needs to be cleaned. Please read my article, Cleaning Headstones for more about this.

Resetting Grave Markers

Resetting grave markers can be as basic as digging a hole and setting the stone in it and making sure its level or more complex requiring hoists and other rigging equipment.

Repairing Grave Markers

Repairing broken grave markers can range from fairly basic to complex. Each situation is different. Some repairs require work to be done in stages or the use of a lime mortar infill to replace missing stone, while other repairs are as basic as applying epoxy and clamping the pieces in place.

Final Steps

Now that you have the dead trees removed and the grave markers preserved there are a few final steps to take.

You may choose to fill sunken graves with clean soil and seed the area. If no grave marker is present the sunken grave effectively becomes the “grave marker.” If you back fill and seed the grave make sure you place some sort of marker so the grave is not completely lost to time. Even if the name of the deceased is unknown a small marker of some sort denoting that fact is recommended.

Also seed the bare areas around the markers you reset. Planting grass will help prevent erosion which can lead to the marker falling over again.

Finally, complete any remaining documentation. Make sure to document what you did to each marker and what products you used. Also take “after” photos of each grave marker and of the entire cemetery from the same vantage points you took the initial photos from.

A Final Word

I want to stress again the importance of getting trained before undertaking a cemetery preservation project. Even before assessments begin someone in the group should have some training and a knowledge of what to look for how how to address it. I am always happy to answer questions and help guide people in the right direction. Many other conservators feel the same. But it is imperative that you get some hands-on training before you get too involved in your first project.

Browse the information of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

Good luck!

Truth About Nyalox Brushes and Headstones

Truth About Nyalox Brushes and Headstones

By Brad Manzenberger
Conservator, Stone Revival Historical Preservation

Do Nyalox wheel brushes on drills remove stone material from a grave marker? What about using D2 Biological Solution and a nylon bristled hand brush?

Those are the questions to be answered here. Any other issue is for another study. A controlled environment is not necessary as the sole purpose is to see if either of these cleaning methods remove original stone material. Bias does not play any role as the method either removes stone material or it doesn’t.

This is a Grit Chart for Nyalox wheel brushes.
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Phase 1

In Phase 1 I cleaned one half of a piece of marble with a grey Nyalox wheel brush and water (Labeled 1, 2 and 3 in the photos) and D2 Biological Solution and a nylon bristled hand brush on the other half (labeled A, B and C in the photos.)

Measurements before cleaning with a grey Nyalox brush on a corded drill:

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Measurements before cleaning with D2:
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Measurements after cleaning with a grey Nyalox brush on a corded drill:

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Measurements after cleaning with D2:

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This stone was only gently soiled, as seen along the edge of the stone.

The face of the stone after cleaning with both methods.
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It is clear that just a quick gentle brushing with Nyalox on a drill removes stone material. In Phase 1 testing one-hundredth of an inch was removed. Srubbing by hand with D2 did not show any sign of loss of stone material.

I did not clean the edge as it had no bearing on the width of the stone.

Phases 2 and 3 can be seen here.

Nyalox and Headstones, Parts 2 and 3

Nyalox and Headstones, Parts 2 and 3

Information from Part 1 can be seen here.

In Part 2 I used an orange, medium grit Nyalox wheel brush on a corded drill. This is taught as the first step of polishing the stone after it has been cleaned.

Once again we see about one-hundredth of an inch removed from the stone. The reading after cleaning was 1.61″. See Phase 1 for photographs.

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Part 3 was done using the blue, fine grit Nyalox wheel brush on a corded drill. The finer grit removed negligible amounts, if any. With the blue brush I started to see a smooth shiny surface appear.

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How anyone can claim these brushes do not remove stone material is beyond me. If they aren’t I would really like to know how I got stone dust on my fingers from rubbing the stone after polishing it.
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Cleaning Headstones

Cleaning Headstones

To clean or not to clean? That is the question.

It is my opinion that, as a whole, the cemetery preservation/restoration community cleans headstones way too much, often cleaning for the sake of cleaning. This is due in part to the fact that proper cleaning can be taught fairly quickly and it is an easy project for volunteers who want to do something but arent comfortable doing resetting and repair work. But there are really only four times I believe a grave marker should be cleaned.

  1. When repairing a broken marker in order to more closely match mortar used for infill.
  2. When soiling, biological growth or other substances prevent all or part of an inscription from being visible.
  3. When soiling, biological growth or other substances are, or are likely to, cause damage to the marker itself.
  4. Less common issues like graffiti, ferrous metal staining, tree sap, etc.

The point of preserving and restoring historic artifacts like grave markers is to perpetuate their existence for as long as possible, knowing full well they wont last forever. They shouldnt look brand new. But they should look cared for without removing the historic fabric of the cemetery.

The first rule in any type of historic preservation is Do No Harm. To that end Stone Revival Historical Preservation has been a leader in research and in the field experimentation to ensure we are always up to date with the Best Practices of the cemetery preservation field. The research is always an ongoing function of Stone Revival Historical Preservation. We follow practices set forth by such organizations as the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT), the Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS), the Chicora Foundation, and through consultations with other well respected conservators around the United States.

It is advised by the vast majority of conservators and every known organization that the use of any sort of power tool for the cleaning of grave markers is not acceptable. Believe it or not there are contractors that think cleaning soft, 19th Century marble headstones that have weathered for a century and a half with tools such as sand blasters, pressure washers and electric drills with a wheel brush attached is acceptable. More about the drill method below.

Also, standard household chemicals should be avoided. There are numerous acceptable masonry cleaners on the market to cover just about any situation an old headstone may face. Bleach is an absolute no-no. It leaves salts behind which can speed up the deterioration process and will discolor the stone over time. Ammonia was once considered acceptable but there are better, and equally affordable, products on the market so ammonia is no longer recommended. Acids should also be avoided.

Stone Revival Historical Preservation primarily uses D/2 Biological Solution with an abundance of water to clean grave markers. Most of the cleaning issues we encounter can be handled with this product. On some occasions more specialized cleaners are needed, such as removing copper or ferrous metal staining. Grave markers are always cleaned by hand using nylon or natural bristled brushes. All chemicals are rinsed from the stone.

Products like D/2 Biological Solution are called biocides. They are designed to kill off biological growth such as lichen and mold. These biocides work over a period of several weeks after treatment and scrubbing. Initial cleaning will generally show some change, but as the product works over time the stone becomes cleaner.

Example 1:

Original Here we have the Veterans marker for Joseph Stubbs at Greenlawn Cemetery in Franklin, IN. This photo was taken July 2010 before cleaning.

1511289_393423064177270_346994233777737159_n The same marker immediately after cleaning.

11144985_393423110843932_1073005752453920708_n And this is how it looked after six months.

In July 2016 I visited the cemetery and examined the marker. For the first time in six years it is starting to show signs of biological growth returning. These results arent typical. Results will vary from stone to stone as many factors contribute to how much, what type and when biological growth takes hold.

Example 2

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In this example we see the before, immediately after and two and a half months after cleaning. The orange discoloration in the middle image is from the biocidal cleaner working to kill off biological growth.

Certain contractors have decided to malign D/2 Biological Solution and other chemical treatments claiming they are bad and damage the stone, while ignoring the damage done with their drill and brush method. These contractors are lying both about the chemical treatments and their own methods, as I will point out.

D/2 Biological Solution was part of a six year study conducted by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. In this study NCPTT tested a handful of appropriate cleaners to make recommendations to the National Cemetery Administration for the the care of millions of Veterans grave markers within the National Cemetery system. This test was conducted in the field at various locations throughout the United States as well as in NCPTT laboratories. In the lab setting NCPTT was able to speed up the aging/weathering process to study long term effects of these treatments on marble grave markers. NCPTT recommended D/2 and it has become the industry standard. The NCPTT report can be seen here.

Other cleaners such as Orvus will not have the same long term results as we get with D/2. Only biocides offer that feature. Orvus will remove whatever is on the surface.

Stone Revival has several cleaners in our tool box to best address every situation.

There are methods that can get an old headstone looking brand new instantly. However, these methods damage the stone by removing original stone material from the surface. And we dont want them to look brand new.

Sadly, professional contractors, primarily in Indiana and surrounding states, believe that a Nyalox wheel brush on an electric drill is an acceptable practice. I can only guess that the first contractor to use this method thought it was fine because he was using nylon brushes. Never mind the drill is spinning at up to 3500 rpm.
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Dico Products, the manufacturer of Nyalox, markets them as a longer lasting alternative to metal wire brushes. They come in various grit. The course 80 grit is used for cleaning followed by a round of polishing with a 120 grit wheel and then a third round with a 240 grit wheel.

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With the initial cleaning step and subsequent polishing steps with brushes with ever finer grit a little more of the surface of the stone is removed. The only people that use this method are the contractor who decided it was acceptable for headstones and the many students that have attended his workshops and took his word for it. Not a single preservation organization in the world condones this sort of practice. And the NCPTT, AGS and numerous well known and respected conservators have specifically condemned this practice. Anyone claiming either the NCPTT or the AGS approves of using any sort of power tool to clean a headstone is being dishonest.

Basically, in one photograph, I can prove that Nyalox removes stone material from the surface of the grave marker.

DSC00709 Here you can see stone dust on my fingertips after polishing the stone. Although that seems pretty obvious there are other examples of the damage caused by this method.

10708433_290348134496892_321212238_n In this photo you can see the horizontal and vertical scratches in the surface of the stone highlighted by returning biological growth.

DSC01822 Or a poorly rinsed stone with streaks of stone dust showing on the base?

DSC01810 And here we have stone dust on the grass around the stone after being abraded with a drill.

No matter what they tell you if they are using Nyalox or similar brushes on drills to clean they are absolutely damaging the marker. There is no doubt about it. And to knowingly cause such damage is unethical.

Equally as damaging but less wide spread than the Nyalox is the use of pressure washers. Some will say that using a pressure washer at less than 300 psi is acceptable if the stone is sound. I prefer to err on the side of caution.

The bottom line with cleaning historic grave markers is that 1. there is an actual need to clean and 2. the least aggressive methods should be used. When you start out with an abrasive wheel brush on a drill you are starting with one of the most aggressive methods possible.

 

Welcome!

Welcome!

Stone Revival Historical Preservation specializes in the preservation and restoration of historic masonry found in cemeteries, monuments, memorials and architecture.

 

We are based in Indianapolis, Indiana and provide the following services throughout the continental United States:

Cemetery Preservation

Assessments: We can do a detailed assessment of each grave marker and other features such as historic landscaping, roads and structures within a cemetery. These assessments can then be used to create a long term Master Plan for ongoing preservation and routine maintenance.

Cleaning: Not all grave markers need to be cleaned and they should never be cleaned so aggressively as to make them look brand new. That is not the goal of historical preservation. We use only water and specialty chemicals designed for masonry preservation for all of our cleaning needs and clean by hand. Power tools, pressure washing and sand blasting are never used to clean historic headstones. Power tools and the like are too aggressive and generally remove original material which can speed up the deterioration process and shorten the lifespan of the stone as an effective monument. Click here for more information about cleaning headstones.

Resetting: All monuments are reset to the original position using a pea gravel/sand mixture. This mixture acts as a foundation and helps drain water away from the monument. Natural Hydraulic Lime mortars are used exclusively. These mortars have been used for thousands of years. They allow moisture to pass through the monument naturally where Portland cement based mortars block the moisture leaving behind salt deposits and other possible damage. Portland mortars are never used for resetting grave markers.

Repair: We make repairs using historic preservation mortars. Epoxies are no longer used. They block water form moving naturally though the stone which leaves salt deposits behind leading to irreparable damage. When repair is not possible a concrete pad is installed and the remaining pieces of the marker are mortared to this pad once it has fully cured.

Consolidation: Sugaring (deteriorating) marble generally should not be cleaned or repaired in that condition. Once marble starts to sugar almost any sort of contact will cause stone material to come off the stone. Marble is said to sugar because when you touch it it feels like granules of sugar on your finger. In these cases we use a stone consolidation treatment to bind and strengthen the remaining original material before additional work is started. This treatment fills in the voids caused by deterioration and strengthens the remaining stone and slows down the deterioration process. Once the consolidation treatment process has been completed it is generally safe to clean or repair.

Replacement Bases: Replacement bases are typically carved from limestone with each preservation project. In some cases we will pre-form a replacement with concrete. This is the most common method in the industry, but using limestone is more historically accurate.

Historic Fencing: We can restore the wrought and cast iron fencing that was popular during the Victorian Era.

Landscaping: We can do basic or extensive landscaping restoration.

Mapping: We can generate to-scale maps showing burial information for each plot.

Documentation: We also offer general documentation. This documentation can include an inventory of each grave marker, documentation of other items and structures within the cemetery and photographic databases.

Workshops: We can bring a hands-on workshop to your cemetery or we can host your group in a central or southern Indiana location. We also offer Power Point presentations and consultations.

Other Preservation

Memorial displays: We can clean and preserve non-cemetery memorials made of limestone, marble, granite and bronze. (Damaged metal work requires the attention of a metal smith.)

Architectural Masonry: We offer preservation and restoration treatments for most architectural masonry.

Ethics and Standards of Practice

We use methods recommended by the Association for Gravestone Studies, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Chicora Foundation and others.

We endorse the following Codes of Ethics and Guidelines and Standards for Practice:

AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice

History and Historic Preservation Memberships

Association for Gravestone Studies
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Sons of the American Revolution