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Many people do not realize that the early or "colonial" era gravestones of the United States are in fact much larger that what you see above ground. Because of the thickness of these early gravestones half of the length will be found below ground level. This was not only done to ensure that the gravestone would remain straight and sturdy, but for other reasons such as the frost over many northern winters would push the gravestone up. A gravestone with a shorter base would over time be prone to falling over. The use of the long base would prevent this. With the turn of the 20th Century, gravestones gradually became thicker & heavier eliminating the need to set so much of the stone below ground. A concrete foundation was simply poured to keep the stone in place.

There are numerous reasons why one of these early gravestones might start to lean. Sometimes the tilting of the gravestone was caused by the grave collapsing over the years, and the settling caused the stone to tilt in that direction. Adverse weather conditions such as the winter frost as mentioned above or abnormally heavy rain seasons could lead to this.

You will also discover that stones of this nature are still in use today. Government issued veteran gravestones are 42 inches long, with half in the ground.
Resetting one of these stones is not an easy process to undertake and the following things should be kept in mind when working with this type of gravestone:

You may discover that it may be for the best to simply leave the tilting stone as you found it and not take the chance of doing further damage. If you are not experienced in this type of work it is highly recommended that you do not attempt to re set the stone. The state, county or local historic society or museum should be able to advise you and provide you with the names of restorers in your vicinity. Some museums are even directly involved in gravestone restoration, with experts on the premises. If the damaged gravestone is from the modern era, any local monument business should be able to repair it. In the case of a crooked/sunken stone, the cemetery may be responsible for providing a new foundation, especially if the burial involved a "perpetual care" fee. Again, the costs will vary; don't hesitate to ask and shop around.

Category: Care and Cleaning of Gravestones
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