MECHANICSBURG — Virtually unreadable are some of the names and dates.
Stones are tipped precariously and others lie in pieces.
The pioneers who founded nearby Mechanicsburg are buried beneath the earth, marked over a century ago with marble.
But there are no records indicating whose body lies in certain plots.
So the board operating the Mechanicsburg Cemetery has taken action to restore the tombstones before irreparable damage is done.
Looking at the stones that date back to 1848, when the cemetery was established, passers-by may think it is already too late. Some markers can only be read by running a finger across the faded words; the poetry inscribed on some is impossible to decode.
But some have been restored by John “Walt” Walters, the owner of Graveyard Groomer of Connersville. Those tombstones are pristine white and look brand new.
“They’ve got 150 to 160 years of what’s come out of the sky on them – acid rain, salt. That attaches itself to the algae that’s on there and deteriorates the stone,” he says. “We’ve probably given them another 100 plus years by giving them a good cleaning like this. We can’t make them vandal-proof but we can make them respectable again.”
Walters says that lichen grows on tombstones and fills in the letters. Once he painstakingly cleans with ammonia and water, 75 percent of them are again legible.
Because limestone and marble are polishable stones, they become white and shiny with a proper investment of elbow grease.
Around 150 tombstones in the cemetery need to be restored, according to Steve Cooper, board member of Mechanicsburg Cemetery Association Inc. Thirty-four were marked for Walters’ attention, but due to financial constraints, he was only hired for one week.
“We are hoping (the markers) are in the place where they originally stood,” Cooper says, mentioning that the earthquake in the spring shifted a lot of the stones. “We do not have the records for this part of the cemetery. That’s the reason the board determined that we could not go another year without some work being started.”
A large, strangely empty place stands in the center of rows of tombstones. Cooper hopes one day to probe for markers he suspects have sunk beneath the surface to be covered by Mother Nature.
Planning to hire Walters on a yearly basis, restoring as many graves as is affordable, Cooper said he is excited about being able to read the old markers.
“I would love to know what some of this poetry says,” he remarks as he strolled by ornate stones. “And I love the way they used to write ages on the markers.”
His passion for old cemeteries is shared by Phyllis Boze, the president of the board. Both admit visiting graveyards on vacations just to enjoy looking at various tombstones and landscaping.
“This cemetery has always been known as a beautiful cemetery and relatives and the community wanted it to continue as a beautiful cemetery,” Boze says, pointing out that she has ancestors from both sides of her family buried at this location. “My great-great grandfather has one of the first plots as you drive in – Riggs.”
“I have family here, both my grandparents and my great-great grandparents are buried in this cemetery,” adds Cooper. “Our family came here in 1828. And a lot of these names I’ve heard all my life from relatives. It truly is a pioneer cemetery – this part that we are doing the restoration on.”
Walters has been caring for cemeteries for over 12 years. Mowing cemeteries in his town led him to a new passion. He taught himself through a great deal of research to restore pioneer tombstones.
“The same way they cared for statues and other limestone marble buildings, I started taking that and applying it to gravestone work,” he says.
“There wasn’t a how-to book and it was hard. But I found a passion for it. I saw what people were trying to do with really good intentions, but it was doing more damage than good. Stones would fall back over and break into more pieces than they were in at first.
“I knew what not to do from failed attempts. So I started working on proper epoxies and proper mortars, learned the respect of the graveyard and staying historically accurate.”
Walters’ studies and workmanship led him to one job after another, working off referrals from previous clients. He has worked in six states and 37 Hoosier counties. He received work from a woman in Germany who found him online. With family in Seymour, she asked him to restore the tombstones and send before and after photos.
While attempting to renovate the original tombstones without remaking pieces from new material, Walters often finds essential elements missing.
“The common rule of setting is there should always be a base,” he says, pointing to a tall marker made of several different pieces fitted together. “A lot of these foundations are missing and that’s why they are leaning over. I wonder what happened to what they used to sit on.”
In cases like that, he casts a new base and levels it before resetting the restored pieces in place. His best guess about the missing foundations is that someone attempted to repair the tombstones in the past and, for whatever reason, decided it was best to remove them.
Although he readily admits he enjoys the problem solving associated with his craftsmanship, Walters says learning history everywhere he travels is equally exciting.
“I love it. You learn a lot in an old cemetery,” Walters adds. “I love it when an older man or woman comes and tells me stories of the people in the town. It didn’t get this way overnight and it won’t be repaired overnight, but hopefully I can keep coming back year after year until it’s finished.”
The cemetery was originally established by the Methodist Episcopal Church on land deeded by George and Elizabeth Keesling and William and Mary Alexander. Having grown from a one-acre beginning, the cemetery now spreads over 15 acres.
“I know a lot of family history and a lot of local history,” says Cooper with a smile. “You can take a lot of these names and still find relatives living in the community.”
Any individual or organization that would like to contribute funds to help defray the cost of this work would be welcomed; as a not-for-profit corporation, any contributions would be tax deductible. To directly contact Walters, visit www.graveyardgroomer.com.
MECHANICSBURG — Virtually unreadable are some of the names and dates.
- Home News (ADS ONLY)
Photo gallery: AU vs Mount Saint Joseph Baseball
Photos from the baseball double header and senior night for Anderson University and Mount Saint Joseph on 5/7/10.
- Comedian Harland Williams coming to Paramount LOS ANGELES — Canadian Harland Williams was enjoying winter in Southern California. “It’s beautiful out,” said Williams, 47, familiar from roles in films like “Dumb & Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary.” “A bit cold, but is 65 cold? I’ll take this cold any day, thank you.” Williams, whose Indiana performances have been exclusive to Crackers in Broad Ripple, will take the stage at the Paramount on Friday, April 2.
- Nancy Wood back in Anderson, with ASO ANDERSON — Nancy Wood stared into the glass vase, full of clear water, with the bare roots of a plant dangling down into it.
Auction deal for buyers, not for owners
ANDERSON — An auction held Saturday at a former, popular cabinet manufacturer resulted in deals for local woodwork hobbyists and businesses, but earned less than the new owners hoped for.
Ann Duran on the air in Madison County
DALEVILLE — As a child, radio personality Ann Duran remembers her father calling her his mini-Barbara Walters.
- Weights, measures officials protect consumers ANDERSON — Whether consumers are filling up their cars’ gas tanks, buying a gallon of milk or drying clothes at a laundromat, one man in Anderson makes sure they always get their money’s worth.
- AHS rocking to 'Schoolhouse Rock Live!' ANDERSON, Ind. — With the end of the school year quickly approaching, Anderson High School Performing Arts students are springing into a favorite pastime. With the help of their director of six years, Tiffany Jackson, the group of 12 is putting on a musical, “Schoolhouse Rock Live!”
- Anderson native to lead county ghost tour ANDERSON — Growing up in Madison County, Nicole Kobrowski liked to visit some of the area’s creepier places, such as Moss Island Road just west of the city.
Sidewalk Prophets looking for a Dove
Sidewalk Prophets know how to please a crowd when they sing Christian pop at concerts across the nation.
Now, they’d like fans to reciprocate to help the band win a Dove Award.
- At Home: Project a bonding experience PENDLETON — When a four-year project goes on for seven years, the result is often a strained marriage.
- More Home News (ADS ONLY) Headlines
- Photo gallery: AU vs Mount Saint Joseph Baseball