Cemetery Gravestone Cleaning

by Jane Ahrens

By Jane T. Ahrens with Larry Horn and Susan Tyler
Photo Credit: Jane T. Ahrens

How to clean a gravestone was the question. And the answer was easy. Larry Horn had met Susan Tyler several times as she visited her friend Kitty Sturgis on Island. One thing led to another and it turns out Susan has been volunteering to clean, and show others how to clean gravestones for many years.

As a Commissioner of the Sherborn Cemetery Commission and a Director of the Friends of the Middleboro Cemeteries, both in Massachusetts, Susan is very knowledgeable about the right technique and the right solution. She will tell you, “All you really need is a brush, an old plastic credit/gift card, and some elbow grease.” Of course, the water and the special spray at the end helps too.

In June Larry got a tutorial on how it works and we documented the examples with some before and after photos. Susan chose to begin with some service members’ stones, one dating back to 1918. She visited the three cemetery locations on Fishers Island’s west end and went to work.

There are a few rules to follow when cleaning a gravestone. The first rule of thumb is DO NO HARM. The second is make sure you have permission. The third rule is to ensure that the stone can be safely worked on, as it may be loose or tipping. And lastly, DO NOT use anything other than water, elbow grease, and D2 Biological Solution.

Please check in with a member of the Cemetery Committee to get permission to clean the stones. Ann Banks is the Cemetery Committee secretary and people can contact her at the Library. This will insure the stones are done properly and with the right materials. The committee has cleaning solution and cleaning volunteers can get it from Ann. There are fairly strict rules concerning the cemeteries, so people need to get in touch with Ann or the committee before going to work. Committee members: Peter Burr, Harry Ferguson, Nancy Murphy, Betty Peishoff, Jennifer Sanger, Scudder Sinclair, and Mélie Spofford.

Eldridge and Renaud’s gravestones are granite. After wetting a granite stone with just water, a plastic scraper (or plastic gift cards) is used to help remove heavy biological growth from the stone. Repeat wetting and scraping as needed. Then finish with brushing, rinsing, and a final spray of D2.

Click any image to see a larger version and scroll thru the galleries.

Currier’s gravestone is marble. Don’t use a plastic scraper on a marble stone- too harsh.  A soaking of water and a good brushing with a soft brush will remove a fair amount of surface dirt. Repeat again if needed. Let the stone dry a bit, then spray with D2 and walk away. And as Susan said, “While you’re doing a veteran gravestone make sure you say their name and thank them – it may have been decades since that was last done”.

A reminder, when using lawn equipment to mow or weed whack around the gravestones, please don’t get too close as metal and plastic scrapings leave permanent marks on the stones over time.

Susan also records the stones she works on with a photo and date and registers each on FindAGrave.com. This is a resource available to anyone. In fact, when she arrived on Fishers in June there were two requests on FindAGrave and she was able to respond to both with a photo confirming the location and state of the gravestone(s) in question.

All of the gravestones on Fishers Island are now recorded, photographed, and had GPS locations recorded. But, remember that not everyone has an individual gravestone or name engraved, so there may be more people there! Here is the link for example to Currier’s grave stone shown above before it was cleaned.

About D/2
D/2 Biological Solution is a biodegradable, easy to use liquid that removes stains from mold, algae, mildew, lichens and air pollutants. It is effective on marble, granite, limestone, brownstone, travertine, masonry, terra cotta, concrete, stucco, wood, and other architectural surfaces including monuments, sculpture and headstones. A contact time of only 10 to 15 minutes followed by scrubbing with a soft nylon or natural bristle brush will loosen most biological and air pollutant staining*.

D/2 Biological Solution is effective for removing harmful biological and air pollutant staining from many building materials including masonry, marble, granite, limestone, brownstone, travertine, terra cotta, concrete, stucco, wood, canvas and vinyl & aluminum siding.

*It can be sprayed on, washed, and rinsed. Or, washed, rinsed, sprayed on. All depends on amount of dirt.

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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