SIDNEY — The first phase of the work being undertaken to restore the gravestones of Civil War soldiers buried in Graceland Cemetery has now concluded.
The project has been funded through monies received during the 2016 Civil War Living History Weekend. Mark Smith, of Gravestone Transformations, was contracted by the Shelby County Historical Society to undertake the first phase of the work.
The process involved removing each stone, raising it to a proper height, leveling and then resetting the stone. After being reset, a band of dirt around the bottom of the stone, caused by the stone’s being lower in the ground than regulation height, had to be thoroughly cleaned.
After pre-cleaning the stones, they were individually sprayed with an approved, biological solution that will kill the embedded growth of various organisms and whiten the stones. Algae, fungi, lichen, mold and plant life can trap moisture both on the stone and under the surface. The biological solution is a safe and effective way to clean and eliminate those elements, thus helping to preserve monuments much longer than would be otherwise possible.
As Smith was removing the gravestone of Civil War veteran Thomas Robbins, he found an original Neal Post Grand Army of the Republic flag holder. The cast iron marker was broken in half and buried beside the gravestone.
Robbins was a member of Company H of the 128th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The regiment primarily served guard duty at Johnson’s Island, a prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate officers located off Sandusky in Lake Erie.
“There are very few of the old, cast iron markers left,” Smith said. “They were brittle, and many broke over time. Most were collected during the scrap drives during World War II.” He presented the marker to Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst.
“Despite the age of the marker, you can clearly see that it is marked Post 62, GAR,” Barhorst said. Barhorst serves as chairman of the Sidney Civil War Living History Weekend.
“I’ll either turn the marker over to Shelby County Historical Society Executive Director Tilda Phlipot so that it can be put on display there, or to Shelby County Veterans Services Director Ed Ball,” Barhorst said. “At either location, it will be available so that people can see this bit of local history.”
The funds to clean the headstones came in part from reenactors who participated in last year’s Civil War Living History Weekend. When offered the opportunity to either receive a black powder ration or allow the money that would have been used to purchase the powder to be used for the restoration of gravestones, more than half the reenactors chose to use the money for gravestone restoration.
“It made no difference whether they were Union or Confederate reenactors,” Barhorst said. “Both sides had a strong desire to see the gravestones restored. As it turned out, we had about $10,000 to use for restoring gravestones. It made sense to begin in Section 5, as a portion of that section has been reserved for veterans. The funds allowed us to make a dent in the restoration of Civil War veterans’ gravestones. In fact, the good news is that Mark (Smith) was able to restore 60 stones rather than the 50 we initially thought we would have money to complete.”
Gravestone Transformations, of Circleville, is a historic cemetery conservator dedicated to preserving monuments.
Sidney’s Civil War Living History Weekend occurs biennially. The next event is scheduled for Sept. 15-16, 2018, at Tawawa Park.