Historic cemeteries are in need of care, but there are many well-meaning
folks who actually harm them. Here are a few
hints to assure your visit to a cemetery will result in something positive.
Old marble gravestones and wooden grave markers are very fragile. Do
not lean on them or treat them roughly. Be careful
with weed whips around the stones (concrete bases are much tougher). If necessary, hand-trim any weeds.
Lawnmowers should never be run over a gravestone. Take care when mowing near markers, fencing, or curbing. Bumpers made of old tires on your mower will help prevent scraping.
Cleaning of marble gravestones is NOT recommended. Even the most gentle
cleaning methods (clear water and soft bristle
brushes) will remove particles of stone. Never use bleach or wire brushes on ANY stone. NEVER power-wash or sandblast a grave marker of any kind.
Please do not smoke in the cemetery. There are no ashtrays, and a stray
spark could start a fire in dry grasses and weeds.
Many old cemeteries were totally obliterated when fire swept away all of the old wooden markers.
Please do not move or remove any metal funeral home markers --
even if they can't be read. They mark a grave. The same is
true of fragments of gravestones or even what appear to be stray rocks. If you must move for mowing or weeding, please
return them to the exact spot from which they came.
Before you remove or mow plants try to identify them. Lilacs, roses,
iris, and other flowers, trees, and shrubs may be antique
specimens planted by pioneers. It is OK to remove trees if they pose a threat of getting big and harming nearby gravestones.
Herbicides may be used in cemeteries, but be careful not to spray on
the markers. Protect them from over-spray with garbage
bags or dry cleaner bags.
In most Oregon cemeteries [and elsewhere in the United States] you will
find examples of four common types of grave markers.
The following will help you identify each:
Granite Gravestones: Granite is a very strong mineral used to
identify graves since about the turn of the [20th] century when
stone carvers developed tools to carve the lettering. It holds a polish well and generally will have multi-colored grains.
Marble Gravestones: Marble was used for most early grave markers
in Oregon [and in many other parts of the United States].
It is generally white or blue-gray and often shows veining. Because it is a soft mineral, early stone carvers often included
beautiful artwork on their marble grave monuments.
White Bronze Markers: These monuments look to be a gray-green
color and often surprise folks when they realize they are
metal (zinc). If you are in doubt about whether you are looking at a metal marker, tap it lightly. White bronze monuments are
Wooden Markers: Early pioneers and settlers sometimes marked
graves with wooden crosses or slabs. Some contemporary
graves are also marked this way. Old wooden markers are hard to find and harder to read.
[This article first appeared in the OHCA LEDGER, Volume 9, Issue 1 (June
2000) and is reprinted here (MISSING LINKS) with its kind permission and
that of the author. OHCA LEDGER is a publication of the Oregon Historic
Cemeteries Association, Inc., which is a nonprofit corporation formed to
educate the public about our cemeteries, to build and maintain appropriate
databases, and to protect our cemeteries and their records.]