Saturday, July 18, 2015

Is That My Headstone You're Cleaning?

Today I had a real treat, one that I've been waiting almost two years for:  the Headstone Cleaning & Maintenance Workshop!  Sponsored by the Hayward Area Historical Society, this workshop was to teach us how to do basic cleaning and care of headstones in the San Lorenzo Pioneer Cemetery.  Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.  

The morning was taken up with a basic lecture on various types of stone and which kinds of cleaners, tools, etc. to use on each.  Then we went for a walk around the cemetery, with our instructor pointing out different problems, what might be the cause(s), and various possible solutions.  After lunch, we were directed to three headstones that became our "guinea pigs" for the hands-on portion of the workshop.  My partner and I had the privilege of working on the headstone of a two-year-old boy; it was probably taller than he had been.  Here is a picture of it before it was cleaned:




Walter Ludwig Shiman 
See all that yellow-brown gook running down just off center under the break?  That was old epoxy that ran down the stone after someone used it to glue the top back on.  I spent quite a bit of time flicking it off bit by bit with a scalpel; there's not much left of it now, and what is still there is much lighter and harder to see.  I'm very proud of that!  We also did a general washing and scrubbing of the stone to get as much dirt, mold and the other blackish spots and stains off.  (I didn't have a camera with me, so I don't have any pics, unfortunately.)  The last thing the instructor did was to fill in that hole in the bottom right corner of the stone, just under the poem.

To see a larger and clearer view of the stone, go here:  Walter Ludwig Shiman


Note to Self:  Never read the poetry on a child's headstone until after finishing the work on it, as it's really hard to see to work through the tears.

10 comments:

  1. What a lovely thing to do, Lucretia! I can imagine it would be heartbreaking to read some of the epitaphs. As long as the tears don't damage the stone, I imagine the owners would be rather pleased someone still cared enough to cry for them. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, since tears have salt in them, it might NOT be a real good idea to clean the stones with them! But, as you say, I don't think the people would mind too much knowing someone else cried for their loss.

      What's even more heartbreaking to me than the epitaphs is reading some of the dates, knowing some of those children only lived for a day or two, or even less. As a parent, my heart just breaks for THEIR parents and the pain they must have gone through.

      Delete
  2. That is a wonderful way to help the community. It sounds very gratifying to help with preserving the final resting place of those who may not have visitors anymore.
    Truly a beautiful thing to do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It IS gratifying, and fascinating as well. I don't think any of these graves have visitors anymore, except for us, and it is currently closed to the public except on special days. It's no longer a 'working' cemetery, meaning no one is interred there now unless it's someone who already has a plot purchased there, and none of these families are around any longer. The most recent death date I have seen was 1955. There is also a "pauper" section of plain white wooden crosses in the back, because it used to be connected to a hospital; if someone died in the hospital and had no relatives to bury them, they were buried there. There is a list of names on a monument (if they knew their names) at the front of that section, but there is no way to tell which cross is over which body. All we can do for them is put the crosses back up when they fall over, and make sure they are clean and unbroken.

      Delete
  3. Ooh! I've wanted to take such a class. Very cool. Aww, Lucretia. HUG! I just zoomed in to read the piece. Heartbreaking. But helping to preserve the stone and his memory... Well, that's just beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps you can find someone to give a workshop for your cemetery workers/volunteers? I can give you the lady's name and contact info if you are interested. She lives here in California, but goes all over the world, and I know she would fly out there if there were enough interest.

      Wasn't that SO sad?? And from the way it's worded, I'm guessing the mother was already gone when the little boy died, otherwise the poem would have mentioned her as well as his father.

      Delete
  4. Because two of the cemeteries here are on the National Register of Historic Places, we have the added burden of having to comply with the register's guidelines when it comes to grave-marker cleaning. High-pressure water, for example, is a no no.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hear you. Even though our cemetery isn't a registered historic landmark, I believe we are using those guidelines. Our water cleaning yesterday consisted of using hand sprayers that had to be constantly pumped for pressure. A little annoying, but it sure beat taking the risk of knocking the stone over!

      Delete