Oak Hill Cemetery Preservation Society learns proper cleaning technique from national expert
JANESVILLE--On an unseasonably hot Saturday afternoon, Judy Goth stood in the Oak Hill Cemetery with dirt-spotted white shorts, a plastic brush in hand and a smile.
She was one of 36 participants who gathered to learn proper headstone cleaning and preservation techniques from Jason Church, materials conservator for the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
Goth, a member of the Oak Hill Cemetery Preservation Society, said she knows people buried in the cemetery. She wants to preserve their histories and the histories of the hundreds of people buried across the 90-acre cemetery.
Church lead a presentation and hands-on workshop for headstone cleaning, presented by local preservation society.
The presentation covered how to construct a plan for preservation and gave tips for what to do and what not to do when cleaning stones, Church said. He gives presentations to groups all over the country, he said.
“(There is) sort of a reclaiming of cemeteries all over the U.S.,” Church said.
The workshop was the product of a three-year effort by Marni Janisch, workshop coordinator, to host a presentation in Janesville.
Janisch became interested in cemetery preservation in 2010 after the death of her father. When he died, she became “possessed” with learning her family’s genealogy.
“When he died, I thought, 'someone has to know the family history,'” Janisch said. “So I started.”
While uncovering her family’s history, Janisch found her great-great-grandmother’s headstone caked in weeds and dirt, completely unreadable. She researched online how to clean the stone and quickly learned there were many questionable sources for preservation tips.
Janisch found the most reliable information on the NCPTT website, which lead her to Church’s resources.
“Genealogy is one of the biggest pastimes in America right now. It’s a huge thing,” Church said.
Many of the people Church meets across the country became interested in preservation through genealogy, he said. Their desire to preserve history often spreads beyond the people to whom they are related.
People often don’t realize the materials they use to clean the stones may cause more damage than good, he said.
Church warned participants not to use bleach, wire brushes or pressure washers on headstones, because they can deteriorate the stone.
Stones should be cleaned with water and D/2 biological solution, as Church demonstrated. D/2 solution can be purchased online through a D/2 supplier or on Amazon.
To scrub the stone, natural or plastic brushes are recommended, Church said. Wooden scrapers can be used to reach small nooks.
The 36 participants who took part in Saturday's program at Oak Hill Cemetery came from across the state and beyond Wisconsin, including places such as Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Kentucky, Janisch said.
Janisch hopes the preservation society can use Church’s presentation as a base for more cleaning efforts in the future, she said.
“We thought first thing to do is to learn how to clean headstones and take proper care of our cemetery,” Janisch said. “It’s a good start.”