Today we have a guest column by Deputy Greene County Historian, Vedder Research Library Archivist and Athens native Jonathan Palmer.
This past week I had the pleasure to attend a workshop in Palenville all about cemetery monument maintenance and repair. It is an oddly specific topic, but one which those of us in the history field know is in high demand. The workshop was organized at the instigation of Palenville resident Eva Behr, and thanks to the support of the Palenville Cemetery Board and the nonprofit Palenville The Hamlet Inc., a group of 40 people were able to learn techniques from Jonathan Appell, who is one of the most prominent specialists currently doing monument preservation work in the United States. There were even boxed lunches.
Mr. Appell runs a company called Atlas Preservation based in Connecticut, and since the 1980s he has been working in the monuments field placing new cemetery monuments and repairing old ones. His company is devoted to this single topic, and on their website you can find information about methods and techniques as well as a slew of hard to find and tried-and-true supplies which his company has been using with considerable success for more than 20 years. Mr. Appell’s resume is in itself formidable, but he last made national news as the person Historic Jamestowne contracted with to repair the “Knights Tombstone” which is one of the oldest European gravestones in North America.
The Palenville Cemetery isn’t endowed with any headstones from the 17th century, but there were plenty of dirty tilting and fallen markers which offered a challenge for those in attendance. The workshop started promptly at nine with introductions and an overview of the plan for the day. The first part of the morning was then devoted almost entirely to cleaning techniques and best practices. Mr. Appell primarily discussed the application of D/2 Biologic Solution, which is a cleaner well suited to remove growth and staining from headstones (particularly Marble ones) without harming the stone itself. The portion on cleaning discussed methods to avoid, proper brush types if you feel the need to use one, and why cleaners like D/2 offer the best results over time as opposed to household cleaners and soaps.
Following lunch the rest of the day was spent giving demonstrations on how to re-level old tablet stones and monuments. There are numerous challenges that need to be considered when attempting to straighten old gravestones, and two different types of marker were selected to illustrate some simple methods. The Cemetery Board had gravel and wheel barrows on hand, and at the end of the day three markers were righted by removing the stones, adding new beds of gravel, and replacing them on the newly leveled surface in their original locations.
The final portion of the day was devoted to the repair of shattered headstones, which is a common problem in many cemeteries in this area. The importance of avoiding certain types of glues and reductive processes (like drilling and adding pins) was talked about at length, and the day ended with Mr. Appell giving a demonstration of the repair of a broken marker using a two part knife-grade epoxy which was applied to the cleaned surfaces of the broken portions of the headstone. The importance of using such epoxies was evident once the repair was completed, as the material allowed for a nearly seamless repair which once cured would not only help adhere the broken pieces, but add a rigid structure which would support the repaired stone indefinitely.
Those with questions about this event and the information conveyed are encouraged to reach out to me via email@example.com, or to contact the organizers of the event via this website: http://www.palenvilleny.com.
A wide variety of information on cemetery monument preservation techniques is available on Jonathan Appell’s websites http://www.gravestoneconservation.com/about and https://atlaspreservation.com and the latter also offers a wide selection of supplies.
To reach columnist David Dorpfeld, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him on Facebook at “Greene County Historian.”