The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


May 27, 2007


Visitors should be careful not to damage gravestones

By Debby Woodin

Genealogy hunters and cemetery visitors could be wearing away the very history they seek out.

Attempts to clean or polish cemetery headstones with bleach or caustic chemicals, and even the practice of chalking stones to do rubbings or take photographs, can erode or damage the stones, preservationists say.

Marjorie Bull, a member of the Jasper County Cemetery Preservation Committee, said she cleaned and repaired some of her family’s gravestones with muriatic acid. “But I also took water with me, and I washed them off good,” she said.

She used liquid concrete to repair some broken stones. “It’s probably been about four or five years ago,” she said. “They still look as good as they did then. They were really old, old stones, but they look just fine.”

A clean slate

But some people aren’t so lucky.

Using bleach to strip stones of moss or lichen, or even ordinary dirt, can discolor soft stones. More harsh chemicals, even those that contain salt, can soak in and eventually break up the stones, experts say.

Richard Green, the office manager of Joplin Granite Co., 1306 S. Main St., said it’s OK to clean marble or limestone, but people should use nothing more harsh than vinegar.

“If they have the lichen, or even black pollution in the unpolished area of a stone, I would use vinegar with a scrub brush,” Green said. “It’s not a real bad acid.”

He said he has seen people damage stones by trying to put a gloss finish on them again.

“Where they’re hurting the stones is they’re trying to refinish marble and limestone markers,” he said. It is best to hire a professional to restore those types of stones, some of which are not intended to look glossy, he said.

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