SIDNEY — The restoration of the gravestones of Civil War soldiers buried in Graceland Cemetery is once again underway.
The project, funded through funds received during last year’s Civil War Living History Weekend, will restore the gravestones of approximately 50 veterans.
The Shelby County Historical Society has again contracted with Mark Smith of Gravestone Transformations to undertake the work.
Each stone is removed, raised to the proper height, leveled and then reset. After being reset, most will need a small band of ground-in dirt around the bottom cleaned thoroughly as that portion of the gravestone was under the ground before being reset. The stones are then painstakingly pre-cleaned. The stones will then be individually sprayed with an approved biological solution that will kill the embedded growth of various organisms and whiten the stones.
“It is hoped that the stones will eventually be as white as those in national cemeteries like Arlington,” Smith said. “This is not a process that results in instant whitening, but a process that happens over time with help from the sun, wind, and rain. The stones we are cleaning this year should be nice and white for Sidney, Ohio’s Living History Weekend next September.”
“The project has moved along nicely,” Smith continued. “This year, Scoutmaster Tom Frantz had Boy Scouts place orange flagging tape around the stones of Civil War soldiers, so I’ve not had to spend time locating the markers. I hope to finish the stones in Section 5 this year, and begin working on those in Section 3.”
When the project is complete, Smith intends to provide a list of names for the veterans whose stones were reset and cleaned. He will also provide a CD with before and after photos of each stone.
“I discovered that some of the headstones have the wrong flag holder on them,” Smith said. “For example, one had a World War I flag holder rather than a flag holder from the Civil War.”
“This morning I worked on resetting the stone of a two soldiers, presumably brothers, who shared a gravestone. I’ve not found that in my previous work. I also found a soldier who did not have a flag holder, and two graves that are marked with flag holders that have no headstones,” Smith noted. “One has just the flag holder and the other a temporary funeral home plaque. If these men are veterans, the Veterans Administration will provide a free headstone for them. If they are not veterans, the flag holders ought to be removed.”
In another case, Smith found a gravestone that was marked as a Civil War veteran although the stone clearly notes his year of birth as 1880. “The GAR flag holder is embedded in concrete,” Smith said, “so it’s obviously been that way a long time.”
“The restoration of Civil War gravestones was popular with the re-enactors who participated in our inaugural Civil War Living History Weekend,” Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst said. “When we offered the opportunity for those participating in the event that first year 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, we had no idea how many re-enactors would contribute.” Barhorst also served as the chair of the Civil War Living History Weekend Planning Committee.
“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,” Barhorst continued. “Section 3 is one of the older sections of the cemetery, and it too, has a lot of veterans buried there, several who lost their lives during the Civil War.”
“Outdoor elements play a key role in the weathering and erosion of gravestones,” Smith said. “Algae, fungi, lichen, mold and plant life can trap moisture on the stone, as well as, under the surface. By cleaning and eliminating those elements, monuments can be preserved for many generations.”
Gravestone Transformations is a historic cemetery conservator dedicated to preserving monuments. The company is located in Circleville, Ohio.