So, you've just finished scraping off the lichen and scrubbing the gravestone with water. Now it's time to apply D/2 Biological Solution to kill the lichen and whiten the stone. You spritz some on the damp gravestone and...oh no! Why is the gravestone turning pink?! Don't worry--sometimes stone will turn a subtle color of pinkish-orange after applying D/2 Biological Solution. The manufacturers of D/2 explained it to me that the color change is the result of the biological organisms reacting to the D/2. This temporary discoloration can take on shades of orange, pink, or gray. Not all stones react this way but some will. When it does, it will generally take 24-48 hours before the discoloration disappears. So, the only downside is that you may have to come back after a few days to take some good "after cleaning" pictures.
Here in Wisconsin we've had a very hot summer...we're talking about several days in the 90s with heat indices over 100. Should you clean gravestones in such extreme weather? When it comes to cleaning dark colored gravestones, the answer is "probably not."
I'm not even addressing the fact that doing any physical labor when it's that hot outside is dangerous here. I'm just addressing a question I get about cleaning gravestones during extreme weather.
The type of gravestone you should avoid cleaning on hot, sunny days are the black, granite ones. These are the grave markers that are hot to the touch. If this is the case, you should NOT clean them. Why? According to Jason Church, materials conservator, for the National Park Service (NCPTT), the liquids you are using to clean may react with the surface finish of the granite, permanently damaging it. No one wants that to happen. Remember our guiding principle when cleaning gravestones? Do no harm to yourself or the grave marker.
What about light colored gravestones or those which are non-granite? I would suggest avoiding cleaning those too if they are hot to the touch. Just wait for a cooler time of day or for a more mild day.
I recently assisted a non-profit group in organizing a clean-up effort in a Monroe County, WI, cemetery. Once or twice a year I do some free consulting with non profit groups, like this one, wanting to organize a large cemetery clean up effort in a neglected cemetery. I thought I would share here some guidelines I tell them because there are some things that can go wrong even when everyone's hearts are in the right place.
1) Get permission first. Be sure that the governing body of the cemetery (church, town board, cemetery association) you plan on working in "signs off" on your clean up plan. You need permission to clean a gravestone first, whether you're cleaning 1 gravestone or 100.
2) Have the volunteers sign a "hold harmless" waiver. There are plenty of opportunities for folks to get injured when working in cemeteries, from tripping hazards to bee stings. Be sure to have your team sign an agreement to not hold your non-profit responsible for any injuries incurred during the clean up day.
3) Pre-select the gravestones to be cleaned. Not all gravestones should be cleaned. Some are too fragile and cleaning might damage them. Or, some are not secure enough to clean and may even topple over. Have a trained member of your team go out ahead of time and flag the gravestones that are safe to clean before you let loose your eager crew.
4) Train your crew. So, you have an energetic crew of young workers willing to get their hands dirty for the sake of cemetery preservation. You can't just let them loose with brushes, water, and D/2 in a cemetery. They need to be properly trained first...and then continually supervised throughout the day.
Remember that it all comes down to DO NO HARM--not to self, not to gravestones.
Oh, and "thank you" to everyone who cares enough about our cemeteries to organize these clean up efforts.
[photo credit: Steve Rundio, Tomah Newspapers]
Summer is a busy time for my Cemetery Preservation Workshops (natch). I wanted to post a stunning before and after photo of a pedestal style grave marker. The John Bartenster monument was cleaned by Dave and Ruth as part of the workshop I did with the New London, Wisconsin, Museum. Dave and Ruth participated in the workshop and, as such, did hands-on cleaning after the classroom. They used water (and lots of it) and D/2 Biological Solution. As you can see in the After image (on right), the inscription is much clearer to read. You can even see the International Order of Odd Fellows symbolism (the three "chain links"). Great job, Dave and Ruth!
Sometimes when we clean gravestones the "After" result isn't as dramatic as we'd like to see.
I was recently hired to clean some gravestones in a cemetery outside of Cashton, WI. It was in that cemetery that I encountered the most stubborn biological growth I have ever tried to clean. In my 12 years of gravestone cleaning, I have never encountered algae coverage as black, thick, and resilient as found on this marble gravestone, especially on the backside. My first cleaning turned the black into gray. The D/2 Biological Solution I use to clean and treat gravestones continues to work for several weeks as it kills the stuff growing on the stone. While I know that the algae has permanently stained the marble, I'm hoping that once the algae is killed off, it will lighten up even more. I'll provide an update the next time I'm able to stop by that cemetery.
I follow professional cleaning guidelines of "DO NO HARM" to self nor the gravestone while cleaning. I suppose if I blasted the gravestone with a power washer and grinded it down with a metal bristle brush I would have better results. But I'm in this business to "save stones," not just make them look nicer for my clients.
I recently spent a beautiful afternoon with eighth graders learning about gravestone symbolism in the Woodlawn Cemetery, Sparta, WI. I appreciate how fascinated they are about the meaning behind symbols, like clasped hands, and shapes, like the lamb, and what they once meant to the people who chose to include them on the gravemarkers of their loved ones.
Twenty-five folks came to the Cemetery Preservation and Gravestone Cleaning workshop at the Goodhue Historical Society in Red Wing, MN, last week. The first half of the day was spent inside (where it was dry) learning about topics like preservation ethics, gravestone symbolism, and lichen growth. The second half of the workshop was in the field cleaning gravestones. Even though it was a steady rain all day, at least 15 of the participants tried their hand at cleaning gravestones. Hey--it sure made it easy to keep the gravestones wet the whole time!
Save Your Stones: Tombstone Preservation and Hands-on Workshop,
May 20 @ 9:00 am - 3:00 pm
Learn how to Preserve and Restore Tombstones!
Jarrod Roll, founder of Save Your Stones and a local history professional, will lead a full day workshop on tombstone preservation and restoration. Participants will receive their own preservation kit (a$25 value), and lunch is included in the program cost. The program consists of a presentation at the History Center, followed by a hands-on workshop at Oakwood Cemetery in Red Wing. Cemetery professionals, genealogy enthusiasts, and local history buffs won’t want to miss this engaging and informative program.
Saturday, May 20th, 9 AM-3 PM
Registration, through Red Wing Community Education, is $38 per person and includes a professional preservation kit and lunch.
Register HERE: https://goodhuecountyhistory.org/event/save-your-stones-tombstone-preservation-and-hands-on-workshop/
Jarrod Roll...museum curator by training, preservation educator by passion. Director of the Monroe County Local History Room & Museum, Sparta, WI. Owner of Save Your Stones Gravestone Restoration Services. Maker of the Gravestone Cleaning Kit.