Officials: Fragile headstones make repairs risky

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Lately, Hugh LeMaster has seen more communities taking cemetery stone upkeep seriously. He’s also aware of people forging out on their own to make repairs, and knows those results can be a mixed bag.

LeMaster’s on the board of directors for the Maine Cemetery Association, president of the Monmouth Cemetery Association and a salesman at Collette Monuments in Lewiston, the largest monument company in the state.

“A lot of communities are investing in restoration because their interpretation is they’re required by law to do that (for veterans’ graves),” he said.

Poke around Maine’s old cemeteries and you’ll often find marble stones have taken the greatest beating with time, according to LeMaster. Marble headstones are frequently tall, thin and not as dense as granite.

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“Just the winds blowing over hundreds of years will sandblast them clean,” he said.

Back in the day, people also often bought pinned stones, he said, sometimes via catalog. They were smaller pieces of rock pinned together to create the appearance of a larger stone, but those pin points turned out to be a prime spot for water to gather, expand and ultimately crack the headstone.

“I think a lot of them came from out of state and they weren’t thinking about the freezing weather,” he said.

When it comes to repair, there are obvious pitfalls — scrub too hard and it’s easy to blow out the delicately carved centers of A’s, 8’s and E’s. There are even differences of opinions among professionals when it comes to marble, whether it’s best to bleach or not to bleach, he said.

LeMaster has seen volunteers do good work, but he also cautioned, “It’s kind of like a baby deer; find it and leave it alone if you don’t know how to take care of it.”

Bruce Collette, one of the owners of Collette Monuments, said he hears a lot of stories about people quietly doing good in Maine’s cemeteries.

One local caretaker “kept ordering these memorials for people who couldn’t pay for it themselves,” Collette said. “He would come in and order the marker, and he said, ‘Just bill me,’ and I didn’t know that he was paying on his own until several years later. He was doing it out of his own pocket, and this is the man that cuts the grass. That’s a pretty nice man.

“Then there’s other people, relatives from long ago, who come in quite often and they buy a monument for people who never had a monument before,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who care that are out there.”

kskelton@sunjournal.com

More coverage: Deadlocked

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