Story by Jennifer O’Connor
Amanda Frederick, a six-year-old child; Daniel Benedict, a veteran of the Revolutionary War; and Jonathan Bell Benedict, who is ‘Gone But Not Lost, We Trust’ – all have something in common.
Their dirt covered headstones, dating from the 1800s, were cleaned on Sat., Oct. 13, during the Historic Cemetery Headstone Cleaning workshop, hosted by the Warwick Historical Society.
Expert Marianne Greenfield, owner of Gravestone Cleaning Service, trained participants on how to properly clean the monuments at the Old School Baptist Cemetery, which is located at the entrance of St. Stephen’s Cemetery in Warwick.
The Old School Baptist Cemetery, also known as the 1795 cemetery, is owned by the Warwick Historical Society, which held the workshop as a way to honor Warwick’s ancestors and to preserve the early grave markers.
In taking care of the markers, Greenfield provided a few basic rules. The first is to be gentle and never attempt to clean a headstone that appears fragile or distressed. Never use bleach or other household chemicals because they will cause irreparable damage by eating away the surface of the stone.
Harmful chemicals with a pH that’s incorrect for stone will permanently damage the matrix of the stone which holds the stone together during the natural freeze/thaw cycles.
“The exposure of this under layer to the elements causes the monument to decay much more rapidly than it would have normally,” said Greenfield, who recommends using D/2, a biodegradable and nontoxic product.
During the workshop, Dave Walker, who works with Greenfield, demonstrated how to spray diluted D/2 on the headstones. Participants then dipped a nylon or plastic bristle brush in a bucket of water and scrubbed the stones staring at the top. The pointed ends of chopsticks were used to clean out the lettering.
After the stones were scrubbed everyone was excited to pour water over the stone for the big reveal. Participants were amazed and took pride in seeing the dirt, grime and lichen that covered the stone disappear. Inscriptions that were once difficult to read are now clearly visible and surprises were uncovered.
“There are some wonderful surprises people find on headstones after they have been cleaned. About two years ago before I cleaned a headstone I couldn’t read anything on it. Once it was cleaned I found out it was the cousin of my grandmother,” said Greenfield.
A unique find was uncovered on the back of Maranda Benedict’s headstone. There was writing on the bottom of the stone that was upside down. Greenfield was excited about this discovery.
She explained that sometimes a mistake was made or an apprentice may have been practicing on the stone. Instead of carving lettering on a new stone, they would flip it and start again on the other side.
Many learned a lot as well as enjoyed the workshop, even saying they look forward to doing it again. To learn more about Gravestone Cleaning Service visit www.gravestonecleaningservice.com. For more information about the Warwick Historical Society visit www.whsny.org.
To view more photos visit www.wvdispatch.com.