Cemeteries are often thought of with solemnity. If monuments are properly preserved, they can be a boon to genealogists and historians, and provide a place for generations of family to gather and remember lost loved ones.
On Thursday, a group of people interested in learning about monument restoration and preservation met at Tahlequah City Cemetery to learn more from an industry expert.
Preservation Oklahoma, The Saline Preservation Association and Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism hosted Jonathan Appell, a professional gravestone and masonry conservator. Appell lead the hands-on, interactive training, while covering topics on how to reset stones, repair fragmented stones, appropriate repair materials, use infill material, and repoint and clean masonry.
Appell has performed gravestone preservation and planning projects on many historic cemeteries throughout the U.S., including the Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C.; The Granary in Boston; Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, N.Y.; The First Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Greensboro, N.C.; and The New Haven Crypt in New Haven, Conn.
This is the third year for the event.
The group began surveying markers in the oldest part of the cemetery, targeting those that could be cleaned and reset with the skills and supplies available.
“You see how this monument is tilting downhill?” asked Appell. “This will only get worse over time. Once a monument isn’t level, and especially the newer stones made with polished bases, they begin to slip.”
Appell took the group over to a much older site, where the marker was made of metal and the grave was outlined with a filigreed metal frame.
The frame was broken in several places, but the headmarker was intact. Appell mentioned a number of creative ways the pieces could be preserved.
“This metal piece could be mounted on a newer piece of granite and reset,” said Appell. “As it is now, with metal theft running rampant, people are desperate and they’ll take the metal. A bronze plaque like this probably costs a family about $1,000 to have made. A thief will get maybe $5 to $10 for it at a scrap yard. Thieves will steal metal vases, too, because they’re not connected to the stone.”
Appell recommended having any metal marker mounted to stone using brass threaded rods.
Local historian Beth Herrington was on hand for the workshop and talked about the cemetery’s history.
“This cemetery dates back to 1888,” said Herrington. “We’re working to repair and restore the cemetery and have it listed on the National Historic Register. It’s interesting to know, too, that the cemetery at Sequoyah was moved here in 1905.”
Appell then moved to a vertical monument that had a metal rod sticking out of the top of it.
“Metal rods were used to attach finials or decorative pieces to the tops of monuments,” said Appell. “It’s important to be sure and use a non-ferrous metal, because ferrous metals degrades fairly quickly.”
The next monument surveyed was that of George Lowrey, who died Oct. 20, 1852. It is one of the largest and oldest monuments in the cemetery.
“This has unusual historical significance,” said Appell. “The date is older than anything else here. This one should be cleaned and pointed, but due to its size, it would be hard to move around much.”
Appell noted that many of the new headstones are placed on concrete pads.
“It’s hard to get the monuments to adhere to the pads,” said Appell. “Historically, grave monuments are set in the ground, where they can settle. What’s really important to remember is that practices that apply to construction carry over to cemeteries.”
One participant asked how long the leveling work they would be doing would last.
“This really depends on the site,” said Appell. “Newer [markers] are more iffy. Now, if a monument is 100 years old, it has a very firm footprint, and the leveling will last a very long time. If we properly fill the voids and pack it, it should last quite a while. Of course, it also depends on the area’s drainage and things like that.”
Appell said most monuments weigh between 150 to 175 pounds per cubic foot, making an average size marker weigh in at about 500-600 pounds.
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