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November 22, 2008

Resting in pieces: Restoration under way at Mechanicsburg Cemetery

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.”

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