LEWISTON — Ray Cloutier knows it was a tough winter — even for the dead.

But he was appalled at the state of historic stones along Mount Hope Cemetery’s outer edge.

“I don’t care if the person died 150 years ago; somebody is supposed to maintain his grave,” Cloutier said.

The newer portion of the cemetery, down along the flat plain, was in great shape. But the gravestones along the hillside containing some of the oldest graves in the cemetery were having a tough time. Just driving through, Cloutier saw dozens of gravestones that had been tipped over, some of them cracked.

He comes to the area cemeteries often, visiting graves of family and friends. The stones in Mount Hope Cemetery hadn’t been that way before the winter, he said, and he guesses the stones fell as the frost-laden ground thawed.

Maintenance crews are busy mowing and removing brush to get the cemetery ready for Memorial Day, but he didn’t see workers worried about the gravestones lying on the ground.

He offered to volunteer his time at the cemetery maintenance shed, but they turned him down.

“They said they didn’t have the insurance for it, that they would get to it when they could,” he said.” So, I guess it wasn’t that easy.”

It really isn’t that easy, said Roland Jordan, treasurer of the Maine Old Cemetery Association, a group dedicated to preserving graveyards.

“There are some that take a matter of digging and rebuilding the stones with epoxy,” he said. “Some of them are too heavy; you can’t do it with one person, or even two. And you run the risk of damaging the stones further if you don’t know what you are doing.

“For example, stay away from a power wash,” he said. “You see people doing that, and it’s a real quick way to get a bunch of stones cleaned up fast. But it does 100 years worth of damage in an afternoon.”

It’s better to use a scrub brush and mild detergent, he said.

Lewiston and Auburn are home to dozens of cemeteries, some known, some forgotten, dating back to before the Civil War.

They range from the busy and well-maintained St. Peter’s Cemetery on Lewiston’s northern edge to forgotten plots such as River Road’s Quaker Cemetery.

At one time, they were all well-managed, with family, cemetery boards and teams keeping watch over each one, making sure the stones stayed straight and the grass was clipped.

Management has gotten tougher, however, as board members grew old and retired with no volunteers in line to take their place.

“North Auburn has an association, but I think that’s gone soon, too,” Jordan said. “I’ve talked to the people out there, people in their 80s doing the mowing, and they say there is nobody after them to take over. Will somebody step forward? I don’t know.”

With no one left to take over, the responsibility for most cemeteries defaults to the city. It’s not a bad thing, Jordan said. City crews keep the lawns maintained.

But they can’t provide what loving family members can: the kind effort and care offered by someone whose blood is quite literally in the ground.

“They say you can tell a lot about a man by the shoes he wears,” Jordan said. “Well, you can tell a lot about a town by the way they keep up their cemeteries and how they care for them. When the grass is taller than the stones and there are tree limbs everywhere, you see there is no community.”

It’s not a matter of city maintenance, he said, but the job of the people who live there.

“It is the community, more so than the town,” he said. “It’s the history of the community that’s out there. All the people that made the town, they’re out there.”

The Maine Old Cemetery Association claims some responsibility for those plots — forgotten or not — across the state. The group met for one of three annual meetings Saturday in New Gloucester to discuss their projects, mapping and the history of Maine cemeteries.

Jordan said they do what they can, mapping cemeteries and keeping records of who is buried where. They talk about best maintenance practices and work together once each year to help clean up a cemetery in some part of the state.

It’s tough to keep up, even for the better-maintained facilities. Gerry Raymond, executive director of St. Peter’s Cemetery, said budgets are tight.

“If I want to do something, I have a board to answer to,” he said. “I submit my budget, but they tell me what I can and can’t look forward to over the year.”

Raymond took over as adviser at Mount Hope this year. It has one full-time maintenance person and high school students to work part time over the summer.

Regular maintenance keeps crews busy, so repairs to gravestones and memorials may require calling in a specialist.

“If there is still family around, we let them know there’s a problem with their monument,” he said, “but we are going to charge them.”

Remembrance, as it pertains to cemeteries, has changed, Raymond said. Cremation has become the choice for half of the people who die these days, and that has implications. Families don’t need a big plot to keep someone’s ashes, and they may scatter them somewhere.

It may not have changed how much people mourn or the way they do it, but it has reset the schedule.

“A lot of people have the cremation, and then schedule a memorial later with an urn and a picture,” he said. “That’s different, because they are not in the same frame of mind. They have the ashes, but they can put them in a closet until the family can get together. There’s not so much urgency. It’s not as much of a bother; they can just do it next week.”

People still visit cemeteries, Raymond said, but they come for the exercise and the fresh air. Some of the most regular visitors to Mount Hope are employees at nearby Geiger, walking off their lunches.

“People don’t keep up the same traditions,” Raymond said. “I don’t want to say that they don’t care. It’s just a different attitude, a different mentality.”

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