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Sue Bush
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Grave Concerns

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, August 14, 2006

This Southlawn cemetery headstone is undergoing professional repair work.
Williamstown - Numerous gravestones erected at one portion of the Eastlawn cemetery - some dating back to the late 1700s - are falling down, broken into pieces, or are in danger of being covered over with earth. iberkshires was made aware of the situation over the Aug. 12-13 weekend.

Grave Markers Damaged

A visit to the oldest section of the cemetery found many stones broken and lying in pieces, slanting dangerously to one side or another or leaning far forward or backward.

One group of deteriorating headstones at the Eastlawn cemetery.
Town Cemetery Superintendent Christopher Lemoine said during an Aug. 14 interview that he's received no complaints about the condition of that portion of the cemetery.

The area may be accessed via an unpaved driveway off of Route 2 [if traveling east on Route 2, it is the third driveway, if traveling west, it is the first entrance into the cemetery].

Lemoine agreed that deteriorating gravestones are present at the old section of the cemetery. He has tackled some repairs although the work is not part of the cemetery department's duties, he said.

"I've probably repaired 100 stones myself," he said.

Gravestones are considered private property, Lemoine said.

There have been occasions when someone involved in a genealogy project discovered an old family gravestone required repairs and arranged for the work, he said.

History Crumbles Away

Cemeteries mark the passing of time and generation headstone by headstone, with family names, relationships, birth dates and death dates carved into limestone, marble, granite and concrete slabs. Grave markers are considered much more than a site marker; to most people, headstones commemorate the lives of loved ones.

But as time passes, families may die off or relocate and graves may be forgotten or ignored. The stones may sustain damage from weather or vandals. Ground shifting caused by freeze and thaw cycles can cause significant damage.

All too often, very old stones are simply abandoned or forgotten, and the history of family and community crumbles away.

But just a few miles away, the town's Route 7 Southlawn cemetery is undergoing a gravestone rehabilitation.

Southlawn Cemetery Restoration Underway

Workers with the Monument Conservation Collaborative LLC of Colebrook, Conn., are restoring about 115 stones with about $94,000 in town and state funds. Town voters approved using $54,000 in community preservation act funds for the restoration project, and the state's historical commission contributed $40,000 to the undertaking, Lemoine said.

This toppled Eastlawn cemetery headstone may soon be buried in the earth.

The work began earlier this month and is expected to be completed by spring. About two years of preparation work preceded the restoration effort.

Lemoine stressed that the project, which was organized by the South Williamstown Historical Committee, was not designed to make repairs to all damaged Southlawn headstones.

"It's re-setting the worst of the worst," he said, and added that a primary project focus is the repair of old markers called "tablets" that are usually tall, thin, flat and often made of marble.

Lemoine said he believes the conditions at Southlawn cemetery were worse than the gravestone conditions at the Eastlawn cemetery.

"We Treat These With Great Respect"

MCC employee Martin Johnson is leading the project and was at the Southlawn site on Aug. 14. Workers have made repairs of various type on about 78 gravestones to date, he said.

The work is painstaking and specific repairs may take as long as four days to complete.

"It requires a lot of care," Johnson said.

Johnson pointed out several repairs, including a stone that had broken off from its' base and was leveled and reset. Tilted stones have been straightened, sinking stone bases have been raised, stones have been reset and cracks repaired, and other stones have been pieced together, with the pieces secured with a company-developed grout. Specific tools are used for specific restoration tasks, including cleansing agents and stabilization and lifting devices.

Gravestones may be reconstructed, Johnson said.

The stones are testaments to family and are treated as such, he noted.

"We treat these with great respect."

Stone carver Allison Schofield and MCC Southlawn project supervisor Martin Johnson examine a damaged gravestone at the Southlawn cemetery.
Each restoration project is guided by budget and the work completed must fit the financial boundaries, Johnson said.

"Our first priorities are dangerous stones," he said.

For example, tall monuments known as "obelisks" may be tipping and in danger of falling over. Obelisks can be very heavy and would likely cause injury if one fell onto a person. Falling obelisks can cause damage to nearby gravestones as well.

Prior to the start of a restoration project, each site must undergo a condition assessment, Johnson said. Once a condition assessment is completed, restoration companies can assemble bids to accomplish the work.

The MCC firm plans to handle condition assessments at three Dalton cemeteries this fall, Johnson said.

Assisting Johnson at the Southworth site are Andrew Luciano and Allison Schofield.

Luciano is a history teacher at the Monroe, Conn. Masuk High School and Schofield is a stone carver from Chatham, N.Y..

Schofield is also studying the carvings and engravings on headstones. She is interested in expanding her work and delving into carving headstones, she said.

Culture, Values, And Life

Cemeteries and gravestones are "open air museums" that document culture, life, and the values of families, communities and eras, she said.

Eastlawn is a much larger cemetery than Southlawn, Lemoine said. Most town burials occur at the Eastlawn cemetery, he added.

Both cemeteries are well over 200 years old as evidenced by gravestone dates; numerous stones in both cemeteries host dates of death prior to 1850 and note the ages of the deceased as being in their 80s, 70s, 60s and 50s.

Some stones are very hard to read but may have documented death dates in the late 1700s. Several stones registered birth years as 1788, 1782, and 1786.

The MCC firm has tackled restoration work at cemeteries such as the Mahaiwe cemetery in Great Barrington and Mount Vernon in Virginia.

The company is "a partnership whose combined diverse talents specifically address the academic,artistic,scientific, mechanical and practical aspects of stone monument conservation," according to information available at a company web site. The conservator of the company is Irving Slavid.

A damaged Eastlawn cemetery headstone.

The company offers cemetery restoration and preservation seminars through the U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. An upcoming training will be held in September in Virginia City, Nevada.

Additional information about the Monument Conservation Collaborative may be acquired by calling 860-379-2462.

Information about Allison Schofield may be acquired at a Internet web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.

Your Comments
Post Comment

If Brockton. MA can use prisoners to do this
kind of work then why can't other places
also do this ?

Bill Zardus
WRZ <-- Fundraising events

from: Bill Zarduson: 08-15 00:00:00-2006

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