Stone Monument Conservation

On Saturday, June 1, we had our yearly stone monument conservation workshop.  We had some students from Preservation Institute Nantucket join us and these are some of the stones we worked on at Lot 471, the Captain Henry C. Pinkham Lot.  The captain, his first wife, and his second wife had their stones cleaned with a special cleaner specifically made for stone conservation.  One must be trained in cleaning and use the proper tools and cleaner.  One must also have permission form the cemetery to clean a stone – even of one’s own family – and one must never clean stones without permission from family members or descendants. 

There are several other people buried in the lot – their stones either never existed or unfortunately and sadly, went missing.  One of these family members was a carpenter who died in his early 50s in the Boston-area.  My theory about (at least) his lack of a stone is this: since Nantucket by the time he was in his 30s was in a deep economic downturn – there were only about 2,000 people left on the island – he left the island to find work.  There would not have been much for a carpenter here on island.  Perhaps he has no stone as he and his family could not afford one.

There are two other stones we chose not to clean during the workshop as they are loose and wobble where they attach to the foot.  But, another stone, the small lamb, we also cleaned.  It is the burial site of young Arthur, a one-year old child, the grandson of Henry Pinkham.  A lamb of course was a common symbol used for children who died.  At some point recently, someone planted a daffodil bulb at the base of the stone.  And, I wonder, if this person has been doing the same for other burial sites of children.


Talking to Maria Mitchell, or Speaking to the Dead

I originally posted this a few years ago and last week, the Inquirer and Mirror printed an article on the stone monuments at Prospect Hill Cemetery.  Thus, I thought I would re-post this – something I don’t often do.  But it continues to be very important.  More recently, in May, I worked with some island Girl Scouts to clean the stones of Nantucket veterans.  While the process cleans the stones, it does not bring them back to what they once were – that’s not reversible and also, in conservation you never bring it back to the perfect from when it began.  That’s not the point.  The other part of cleaning the stones is that it protects them for three to five years or more from new growth.  Lichen and its continued growth slowly obliterates the face of the stone physically.  I will be doing another workshop in June with the Prospect Hill Cemetery so stay tuned.  I have been doing this for at least a decade now – not three as the paper wrote – and I have been trained by a conservator!  And remember – you can never clean stones that you either don’t have permission to clean or that don’t belong to your family.  You need to seek permission first from the cemetery sextant.

No, the curator has not gone completely mad.  But when you are working on a stone monument at the cemetery, you feel compelled to talk to Maria and her family.  You see, I am cleaning their grave markers.  Back in 2005, with funding from the Community Preservation Act, I worked with a stone conservator to clean the stone monuments of the Mitchell family correctly.  Unfortunately, people think that bleach is a good idea.  It’s not.  It eats away at the stone causing irreversible harm.  (And by the way, taking rubbings of gravestones is illegal.)

As a way to share the knowledge of properly cleaning a historic stone monument, we opened the process as a workshop – which was underwritten by the Community Preservation Act – during Preservation Month.  We had a wonderful turnout, including descendants of the Mitchell family and a professor of microbiology who, while upset we were removing excellent samples of lichens from the stones, regaled us with all the names of the lichens we were removing and all sorts of interesting facts about them.  You see, while a microbiologist might think they are fantastic and that Nantucket’s cemeteries have some of the best lichen growths, a conservator sees lichen as the bane of the stones existence!  Growths lock in moisture and help to more quickly erode the facades of the stones.

Stone before cleaning.

So, with the beautiful fall weather, I have been back at work cleaning the stones with a special environmentally and conservation friendly cleaner made just for such a job.  If you are interested in learning more, or possibly participating in a workshop this spring to learn how to do this, please contact me.

And remember, it’s okay to speak to them – I think they like the visit.

The same stone after cleaning.


Honoring Our Veterans

Work begins.

On May 16, 2017 from 6-8PM, I had the honor of working with Nantucket Girl Scout Troops 80978 and 81174.  For over a decade, I have been working to clean the stones of not just the Mitchells, but other Nantucketers buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery with the Prospect Hill Cemetery historian, Paula Levy.  She and I first crossed paths when I offered a stone cleaning workshop via the Mitchell House and she was one of the attendees.  Since then, we have cleaned roughly twenty or so stones and worked on a restoration project to restore the fences at two family plots, one of them being the Mitchell family plot.

Work continues.

Our work together brought about a discussion of Memorial Day services.  The Sons of the American Legion and the island Scouts all come together to put flags and red geraniums at the graves of island veterans.  The Memorial Day Parade ends with a service at the Soldiers’ Lot burial site.  We thought it would be nice for the Scouts to play a larger role in attending to the veterans and also to provide them with some background on them and a sense of ownership.  So, I reached out to some scout leaders and the Girl Scout troops noted above joined in.  The Legion provided the funds for the supplies and Paula came and spoke to them briefly about the Soldiers’ Lot and the men buried there.  And then, I gave them another brief overview of how to clean – this time hands-on rather than explaining it at a meeting.  Then, we got to work – Scouts, Scout leaders, mothers.  We managed to clean the stones of all the men interred there – Civil War veterans, WWI veterans, VietNam veterans and more.  About eighteen monuments were cleaned of their lichen and mosses and protected from further damage.  The stones will lighten some – the point is not to make them pristine or bright white.  And the lichen has been removed thus stopping further damage from it.  You will note a few that are whiter than others – several are newer stones and others may have been cleaned in the past by others though it looks like they were done with harsh chemicals unfortunately.  Remember, never clean stones without permission from the cemetery sexton.  DO not clean stones of people other than your family. And most importantly, make sure you have been trained first and have the right tools, specifically a cleaner that is appropriate for the work (bleach is a BIG no-no).

Thank you to the Scout and the Legion, as well as troop leaders and parents!


Work completed.

Cleaning Historic Gravestones and Author’s Tent at the Nantucket Book Festival: A Busy Saturday

Lot 106 MMA PHC Historic Preservation Workshop

On Saturday, June 18th, I may feel, by the end of the day, that I need several of myself to accomplish everything. As a mother of a two-year-old with a fulltime job and the business of sitting on several boards, it would be nice to have three – or four! – of me; or me, myself, and I.

In all seriousness, this is a little promotion for our Stone Cleaning Workshop from 10-Noon on June 18th. I will again be joining forces with Paula Levy, Prospect Hill Cemetery historian, to demonstrate the proper way to conserve stone monuments – aka gravestones. We have been doing this for about ten years now and it’s an interesting way to learn about Prospect Hill and how to conserve these beautiful stones, while at the same time helping to preserve them! I just ask that you call the Mitchell House to reserve a spot – 508.228.2896. It is $10 for MMA Members and $15 for Non-Members which helps to defray the cost of supplies. Just wear clothes that can get dirty.

And on another note, I have been asked to be one of the local authors at the Nantucket Book Festival’s Local Author’s Tent this year and I am very honored to do so. It runs from 9-12 and 12:30 – 3:30. Since I will be cleaning stone monuments in the morning, I will be at the tent for the afternoon session. Lots of interesting authors will be there at the different sessions so come check it out. I will be representing my book, The Daring Daughters of Nantucket Island: How Island Women from the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Centuries Lived a Life Contrary to Other American Women. So please stop by and say hello!


Stone Monument Conservation Workshop

Back by popular demand, the Mitchell House and the Prospect Hill Cemetery Association will co-host a workshop on how to properly clean stone monuments. Gravestones cannot be cleaned with bleach and water but must be attended to correctly to make sure that the face of the stone and its details are not being eroded by the treatment. We will gather together at the MMA for a brief overview and then head up to Prospect Hill to clean several stones. Class will be hands on so wear appropriate clothes and bring protective eyewear (sunglasses will suffice).

Please Note: This class is to teach others so that they may clean their family’s stone monuments. One must speak with the sextant of a cemetery before doing this. One must not work on stones not belonging to their family unless it is through a special program that has been condoned by the cemetery and other officials.

The class will be led by the PHC’s historian, Paula Levy, and myself. Should it be inclement weather, we will have to cancel and hope to schedule at a later date. Please make sure you register as space is limited! SaStone Monument Workshop 2012turday, June 8, 10-Noon. Limited space, reservations necessary. Please call 508.228.2896 to register. $10 for MMA Members; $15 for Non-members.