One of the most important parts of checking out cemeteries is the old medical adage of do no harm. I encounter unreadable gravestones all the time and the temptation is to fix the problem.

But one should be aware of proper techniques. I’m no expert but the Maine Cemetery Association has a page that lays out the points:

  • Use WATER ONLY to clean stones.
  • Professionals may use other cleaning agents.
  • Remove loose, dry material with a soft-bristled brush.
  • Clean the sides and back of the stone first, then lastly the front.
  • Always wash the stone from the BOTTOM UP to avoid streaking.
  • Use small circular motions as you work.
  • Change the water often. Using dirty water can cause scratching of the stone.
  • Clean out engraved and other recessed areas of the stone with a soft toothbrush or soft wooden craft sticks, if necessary.
  • Finish the cleaning process by rinsing the entire stone with COPIOUS amounts of clean water. A pump sprayer is ideal.

We’re coming into the time of year when folks start cleaning up so thought the information was timely and I needed an update myself before I get outdoors!

The biggest problem is having enough water on hand. Sometimes there simply is no water available so you have to carry a lot with you. So the last point is really just this – plan ahead of time.

Quickie kit!

I’m going to put together my cemetery kit this year. I haven’t done it before – the last time I was in cemeteries was in Maine when I had flown up and didn’t want to cart things around with me. I may be driving this time but even if I’m not, I’ll assemble a small kit.

IMG_0184Toothbrushes and craft sticks are easy, small and lightweight.  And then a soft brush? Not a problem due to my many past hobbies and jobs, I’m sure there’s one in the basement I can use. A cheap paintbrush should work fine.

One other thing I like to have is a digging tool. I’ve run across a lot of stones that are buried deep enough to cover up additional engraving on the stone. So something to remove the dirt (without scraping the stone, of course) can be really handy. Not so small or lightweight… A garden spade is perfect for the digging but not so perfect for a suitcase on a flight. So I just started cruising my “respositories” in the house. One container turned up a plastic attachment to  a hair dryer. Sturdy enough to dig with, small and lightweight. Perfect for a traveler. Then I found all that I needed at my local craft store – all wood implements I can use for digging and cleaning stones.

Photographing the graves afterwards can present other problems. The more sunlight, the worse it is for photography in this case. Overcast days actually return better photographs. Early morning is frequently the best time of day because so many sites face the east. Later in the day then the face of the stones are then in shadow.

Plan ahead of time:

Assemble a kit.
Bring lots of water if possible.
Determine what time of day is best for photography at the particular cemetery.

And if you are really serious about this and want to learn more (and will be in Maine in Aug), attend MOCA’s no fee workship Aug 19 – 22 in Wilton, Maine.