Care and Cleaning of Cemeteries

Care and Cleaning of Cemeteries (5)

Monday, 15 September 2014 20:43

Lifting Stones With A Tripod Hoist

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Many of the stones that you will find in neglected cemeteries that have been broken or knocked off their base can weigh in excess of 300 pounds. Far more than you will be able to lift on your own. To repair or reset larger, heavier stones such as this Saving Graves recommends the use of a tripod hoist. The tripod has been used since Egyptian times to raise heavy objects, and can simplify your job. However, even with the aid of a tripod, it is important that you have enough help to ensure safety. Extreme caution is required when using a tripod. You need to be knowledgeable on rigging. Rigging heavy stones with inexperienced people can and will result in injuries. Think about the pendulum effect when lifting a stone, especially when you are working on an tilted surface. One suggestion is to have a local pipe fitter or welder conduct a class with a select group of volunteers and city workers to instruct us in how to SAFELY erect the lifting device and how to SAFELY rig a tombstone. That includes the use of steel toed boots, good leather gloves, etc. All rigging in future would be done only with members of that trained group.

Tripods for cemetery restoration use vary from the two wooden "A" frame type capable of lifting up to two tons to the three pole steel I-beams frame that will support five tons.

Patricia Kneisler of Benicia, California is a civil engineer who works on restoring the 20 acre city-owned Benicia City Cemetery. Among the problems facing their efforts, "almost the entire cemetery is on a slope ... 18" in 10' is not uncommon. And erosion is a huge concern as years of indiscriminant Round-Up usage has left the slopes nearly bare of vegetation. That makes use of equipment such as rubber tired loaders, backhoes and cranes somewhat of a problem as driving them on that slope sure doesn't help matters ... and picking a load on a slope is something only an experienced operator should be doing. Then there is the sheer expense of using that kind of equipment. AND there is the "hurry up" factor. It's a fact that when you use something that costs several hundred dollars an hour, you tend to "hurry up" to save money! And I think we'd all agree that that's NO way to restore a cemetery."

"So, being a civil engineer, I put my head to the problem. To my mind, tripods, engine lifts, etc. were either too dangerous on a slope, or too restrictive in their picking area. So a friend and I developed our own "little" design for what looks like a portable kid's swing set. The rail along the top is actually a small crane beam that a trolley hoist can ride on. The four legs are made from steel pipe and adjust up to 2' to compensate for the slope (a smaller sized pipe slides up and down inside each leg and can be pinned in several spots depending on the height you need). It stands a little over 6' high and will be about 8' to 10' long (so we can rig base blocks out of our way completely when we dig out for new foundations). Yep ... it's a tad heavy! But it's meant to bolt together in pieces. And once it's up ... well, it just stays up until whatever we're working on is done ... if that's a month, so be it. We intend to use a "chain fall" with the trolley, and two cloth slings to pick the stones in sort of a "basket hitch". Now all we have to do is get the city to pay us for the material to put it together. It's probably overkill for a small cemetery ... but Benicia is so large, we'll use a device like this for years."

Some manufactures such as the Granite City Tool Company offer sturdy, lightweight tripods of steel or aluminum construction that set up quickly for heavy lifting (1 to 3 tons) in areas with no overhead support, with independently adjustable legs that permit use on uneven ground and adjust on 6" centers. A standard lashing kit prevents the legs from spreading on hard or soft surfaces and is included with every tripod.

Before getting started, there are three points that we need to look at:

1 Make sure that no metal is used in strapping the stone before attempting to move it with the tripod. This will cause additional damage to the stone and should be avoided. You should use canvas strapping for lifting the stone.

2 You will want to make sure before attempting to lift that the ground you have placed the tripod on is solid enough to hold the weight of the equipment without sinking into the ground.

3 You will want to make sure that the tripod is set up in such a way as to prevent the legs from spreading and causing the stone to drop while lifted.

Monday, 15 September 2014 20:42

Replacing V.A. Markers & Headstones

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Replacing V.A. Markers & Headstones


Previously furnished headstones and markers may be replaced at Government expense when badly deteriorated, illegible, stolen or vandalized. A replacement is also available if the headstone or marker is different from that specified by the applicant or permitted by the cemetery, the inscription is incorrect, if it was damaged in transit, or the material or workmanship does not meet specifications.

Government headstones or markers in private cemeteries damaged by cemetery personnel will not be replaced at Government expense.

Marble or granite headstones or markers, permanently removed from a grave, must be destroyed until illegible and bronze markers must be returned to the contractor.

Please contact Memorial Programs Service at 1-800-697-6947 for guidance on obtaining a replacement headstone or marker.


Government-provided headstones and markers must be inscribed with the name of the decedent, branch of service, and the year of birth and death, in this order.

Headstones and markers may be inscribed with certain optional items including an authorized emblem of belief, and space permitting, additional text including grade, rate or rank, war service, complete dates of birth and death, military awards, military organizations and civilian or veteran affiliations. Terms of endearments that meet acceptable standards of good taste may also be added with VA's approval. Most optional inscription items are placed as the last lines of the inscription on a Government-provided headstone or marker.

No graphics (logos, symbols, etc.) are permitted on Government-provided headstones and markers other than the approved emblems of belief, the Civil War Union Shield and the Civil War Confederate Southern Cross of Honor and the Medal of Honor insignias. Inscriptions for Government-provided headstones and markers will be in English text only.

Documentation must be provided with VA Form 40-1330, Application for Standard Government Headstone or Marker for Installation in a Private or State Veterans' Cemetery, when requesting military awards in the inscription. In most cases this information is provided on the veteran's military discharge documents. Military awards and decorations (including those from foreign governments) other than those listed in Block 8 may be inscribed as optional inscriptions at Government expense at the bottom of the headstone or marker. They should be requested in Block 27. Documentation confirming these awards must be submitted with the application.

Civilian titles such as Doctor or Reverend, or any other additions to the name are not permitted on the name line of a Government-provided headstone or marker.

A veteran's spouse or other non-veteran dependent is not eligible to receive a Government-provided headstone or marker for placement in a private cemetery; however, the applicant may request to reserve inscription space below the veteran's inscription so that the non-veteran dependent's commemorative data can be inscribed locally, at private expense, when the non-veteran dependent is buried. Or the non-veteran dependent's name and date of birth can be added at Government expense when the headstone or marker is ordered. When the non-veteran dependent is buried the date of death may then be added at private expense.

Monday, 15 September 2014 20:41

Building Official Interest

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Building Official Interest

Now that you've found that long lost and neglected cemetery, one of the questions that you first have is "What can I do to get my elected officials interested in the restoration and preservation of this cemetery?" One of the keys to this is educating them. Well-informed officials are crucial to the future efforts of cemetery preservation! Make sure your town and state officials are up to date on the current state of your cemetery. There are several ways that you can accomplish this:

  • Take your mayor, council member, state legislator, U.S. Representative or Senator on a tour of a first a neglected cemetery followed by a visit to a restored cemetery if possible and urge their support for national and local pro-cemetery preservation policies and laws. Explain to them how the restored cemetery benefits the community where as the neglected cemetery casts a shadow on it.
  • Include them in a re-dedication, ribbon cutting, open house or other cemetery related event. If possible attempt to get them involved. Offer to let them say a few words.
  • Present and publicize awards for elected officials who have done the most during the past year to promote cemetery preservation.
  • Hold a letter-writing campaign. Encourage your supporters to contact their elected officials and newspaper columns to state their views and call for action on cemetery preservation issues. Let them know that the voters feel strongly about this and it will get their attention.
  • Attend a town meeting or public hearing and speak up for policies that benefit your cemetery and preservation in general.
Monday, 15 September 2014 20:41

Documenting A Cemetery

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Documenting A Cemetery

Old cemeteries represent an important heritage resource worldwide. Unfortunately, many of the grave memorials in these cemeteries are deteriorating at an alarming rate. There is no doubt that many of the inscriptions, motifs and art designs that are faintly visible today will disappear altogether in another generation. Detailed cemetery recording provides us with a permanent record of these sites, and a point of reference for future research and conservation. The accurate transcription and publishing of cemetery records is important because it preserves the record on the marker, even if the marker itself is lost.
A uniform and systematic way of recording these heritage sites is important. What features are important to record? Where do we start? What do we do with the information when finished? All these are relevant questions faced by prospective recorders.

Documenting a cemetery should include a map detailing the organization of graves, a data recording and filing system using inventory sheets, and some historical and biographical research. Additional information gathered may include an epitaph record, condition reports, videos, and a photograph file. We highly recommend the Standards for Transcribing Cemetery Headstones as developed by B. W. Hutchison.

Before starting a recording project, check whether one has already been done. Even if an earlier recording has been made, it is worthwhile to confirm and update the data, especially grave condition, and add information that might have been omitted.

Planning for a recording project may take months of work, lots of organization and above all, commitment. The initial step is to obtain written permission from the managing authority or owner of the cemetery. Next, plan the recording to take place during the summer months. Make sure all the supplies are ready as needed and recorders have some knowledge of their task.

You may want to do rubbings of some of the harder to read stones. Information on the process can be found here.

In the sections below you will find tips on how to best do your own recording

Tools and Materials Needed

Notebook & pencils
A large sponge
A gallon jug of water
Mirror abt 5"x7" size
4" scraper
Stiff handle natural soft bristle brush
Straight edge

Get written permission to enter if the cemetery is on private land. Be respectful of the property owner's rights. Close gates and keep on roads. Don't drive across pastures or plowed ground. You want the farmer or rancher on YOUR side. You are his guest.

Do your registry on a bright sunny day. Many of the old stones will be badly eroded and the bright light will help you. It is also more comfortable on you, it will be a long day, usually. It can also be harder to work on a very windy day. A 5 gallon bucket makes thing to carry supplies in and at the same time you will have something to sit on. After a couple of hours, your legs begin to get tired just standing.

Take something along to eat and drink as you will be there for a while. Go to the bathroom before you leave home unless you have a particular fondness for copperheads.

Use the sun to help you read the stones. If you are having trouble reading the old stones, record the stones facing East in the morning and the stones facing West in the afternoon. The small mirror can be used to reflect light across the face to create shadows in the engravings on the stone.

If the stone cannot be read after these attempts, You may want to do a rubbing of the stone.

The location of each cemetery should be included with directions by road mileage from the nearest major intersection or other permanent landmark.
All the markers in each cemetery should be copied, preferably in order by row number and marker number. This requirement may seem superfluous, but there are past cases where some unknown selection process was used, whereby certain markers were purposefully omitted from the survey. Do not omit any markers.
The markers are not arranged in any cemetery alphabetically. Cemetery surveys of the individual markers should be presented in the order the markers are located, usually in order by row number and marker number, and not in alphabetical order. This makes it much easier to physically locate any particular marker and maintain possible family relationships for adjacent markers. Also, in the event any marker becomes missing or illegible, it is possible to determine its exact location within the cemetery.
Last but not least, when you leave the cemetery, clean up after yourself and others. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but tracks

Monday, 15 September 2014 20:39

Building Replacement Markers

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Building Replacement Markers

The following suggestion for building an inexpensive grave marker comes from "Bonedigger" <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
1 Build a frame to hold the concrete in place until it cures. The form is made from 1"x 6" boards with plywood. Here is a description of the forms.
2 - 1x6x24" vertical sides
2 - 1x6x18" horizontal sides
Place one of each lengths into a tee shape, square them and screw them together. The top of the tee is your base so turn it upside down and the top becomes the side of your floor of the form. Cut a piece of plywood 18x18" to tie the two tees together and your floor is finished. Use screws to tie the tees to the plywood floor. Don't use nails anywhere; you don't want to hammer anything to get the forms off when the concrete dries. Cut 2 pieces of plywood approximately 14"x18" for the front and back. this front is where you will stick your letters on. When ready screw them in place [after letters are glued on]. 4 more pieces of plywood finish the form. They will be about 14"x6" to be horizontal and vertical end caps for the ends of the tees. All these are screwed into place. Leave the top open to pour in the concrete mix.

2 Cut out letters and numbers.

3 Glue the numbers inside the form you built in 1.above. There is a gotcha here! Glue the letters as if you were looking thru the wood to the letters. In other words the glue goes on the front of the letters not on the back as you would normally glue on stuff. Use the kind of glue that you set floor tiles with for two reasons a] it holds firmly until the concrete is poured b] it releases as soon as the concrete is cured but the impressions are lasting and as deep as the thickness that you made the letters. Imagine for a minute that the front of the form is glass and you are looking thru the glass to the interior of the form what you see is the writing you want to put on the marker just as you want to read it. Keep this thought in mind as you are gluing the letters in place.

4 When you have the form made and letters glued into place [glue has set] take a paint brush and spread oil, about a 30 weight heavy oil all over the letters and front side inside of the form so the concrete will not stick to the letters or to the front side of the form. If desired oil the whole inside for ease of operations.

5 Mix the concrete a little wetter than you would normally pour a sidewalk then pour it and let the concrete cure for several days probably 3 or more days is best. then remove the form and voila you have a tombstone with proper looking message that will last until some idiot decides to break it with a sledge hammer or worse.

6 I put a little reinforcement in my concrete to make it more durable. i.e. two little pieces of pipe running top to bottom inside the form. Or you can use a little grill work e.g. wire mesh or any old steel or iron rods lying around will strengthen the concrete.

7 There are many variations you can choose. I cut out the letters on my scroll saw but a band saw will work. Probably you can talk a local friendly woodworker into making the letters free for you. They should be made from 3/8" thick plywood. Letters any thicker would probably be too hard to remove from your forms without damaging the image you want to leave impressed in the concrete.

This design is based upon 2 bags of concrete mix at approximately $2.00 each at 40 pounds each so the final marker weighs about 90 pounds.