Originally published in Castine Patriot, September 13, 2012
Serious work done to cemetery’s oldest gravestones
"It’s a wonderful, historical site," says restorer
Orland Bean, left, and Donna-Mae Bean, of Gravestone Concerns, repair two gravestones from the mid-1850s. The Castine Cemetery Association contracted the company to repair the worst stones in the Pioneer section of the cemetery.
by Anne Berleant
Gravestone preservationist Donna-Mae Bean placed hands on hips as she surveyed gravestones in the Pioneer section of the Castine Cemetery where the oldest stones lie.
“It’s a wonderful, historical site, [with] gorgeous stones, great epitaphs,” she said. The other end of the spectrum is the “sad condition” of many of the oldest gravestones.
Bean is co-owner, with her husband, Orland, of Gravestone Concerns, who were contracted to repair the worst stones, including broken tablet stones, by the Castine Cemetery Association this spring. During an interview at the cemetery on September 4, she said the work on 16 chosen stones would be finished by the next day.
Originally, Castine Cemetery Association member Kathleen Eaton began working at improving the cemetery with 12 volunteers in spring 2011.
“Every Friday morning, we would prune and cut,” Eaton said, eventually unearthing six stones that had been buried in vegetation. Some of the stones had tree roots growing underneath them.
“It got to the point where it was more than we could handle,” Eaton said.
The association decided to have the worst gravestones repaired, using money from a trust fund established in the 1950s when the Castine Cemetery Association was formed that has grown from small donations over the years. (The town budgets money each year to cover normal maintenance, such as mowing.)
Eaton estimated the cost of the gravestone repair work at $14,000, with the Castine Historical Society contributing $5,000, which came from funds raised by a society house and garden tour in 2010, according to administrator Sally Chadbourne.
All the gravestones required cleaning, a process the Beans do by hand, but first many had to be excavated and reset. Before resetting, Bean said they place stones in a bed of crushed stone “to give it a nice drainage.”
Generally speaking, Bean said, one-third of a tablet stone is set into the ground. Once a tablet is broken, mending it leaves it weakened and vulnerable to re-breaking. But placing broken stones back in the ground deep enough to keep stable may result in burying epitaphs or having them too close to the ground.
So the Beans did what gravestone repairers do: figured out a solution. In the case of two neighboring stones, they trimmed the broken one at the bottom (using a diamond-bladed saw) and set it into the base of its neighbor. That base had been tipped up, underground, at a 45-degree angle, with the tablet stone lying on its side.
“You never know what you’re going to find underground,” said Bean.
The two stones marked the graves of Joshua Hooper, d. 1853, and his wife, Sarah T., d. 1843.
Gravestones (like houses) deteriorate from old age, the elements, pollution and the natural shifting of the ground over time, said Bean.
Acid rain and other weather-borne pollutants start a “spalling and sugaring process,” causing the outer layers to crumble off, and eventually the epitaph becomes unreadable.
“Another 50 years, another 100 years…they’ll keep losing layer after layer,” Bean said.
The Beans hand-wash the stones, using a bio-solution recommend by the National Park Service, rather than a high-pressure wash that causes more layers to be lost. A high-pressure wash gives old stones that “stunningly white” appearance, Bean said.
“They don’t need to be pearly white; they’re historic monuments,” she said.