PERU — A project began this fall to carefully clean veterans’ grave stones in Peru’s 18 cemeteries.

Dave Douglass Jr.’s company As Remembered LLC in Topsham was hired by the town in early October to begin cleaning of Peru veterans’ gravestones, according to Select Board member Gail Belyea.

More than 20 veterans’ gravestones were cleaned this fall in Peru cemeteries. One of the more dramatic improvements was the work on the ‘Wives of Maj. Wm. Brackett’ stone from the Revolutionary War. Submitted photo

“We are honored to be selected by the town of Peru to inspect, preserve and clean veteran memorials,” Douglass said. “This will be a long process, but a necessary one. We want to recognize the citizens of Peru and its Select Board for taking the steps to honor our veterans.”

More than 20 veterans’ gravestones were cleaned this fall and Belyea said there are around 600 veteran grave stones in these cemeteries.

She said work to date from Douglass has cost the town just under $2,000. The money for the work came out of the Cemeteries/Veterans Stones/War Memorial account in the town budget, said Belyea, adding that as of Nov. 18, there is $25,000 in that account.

She said Douglass cleaned the veterans’ stones in the following cemeteries in October and early November:

• Knight: six stones. Merrill Knight, Peru’s first settler and Revolutionary War veteran, donated one acre of his land for this cemetery. He was buried there at age 72 on April 1817.

• Oldham: five stones.

• Piper: five stones.

• Waite: four stones.

• Douglass has also cleaned the large veterans’ monument and the three-foot stones at the green across from Peru’s Central Fire Station.

Douglass described how he carefully cleans these old, precious stones.

“I only clean stones by hand with soft bristled brushes, plastic scrapers, specially crafted bamboo sticks, water and D/2 Biological Cleaner. All the tools used are to assure we do no damage to the stone.”

He noted that D/2 is the only cleaner used by the national cemeteries, including Arlington. The product was developed by conservators without acids or salts, which can damage the stones. Additionally, it’s biodegradable and doesn’t harm plantings around the stone.

“Many people ask about bleaching stones or cleaning with a pressure washer. Those questions immediately make me cringe,” Douglass said. “Bleach can cause irreparable damage by eating away at the surface of the stone, causing the stone to deteriorate. Because all stones are porous, pressure washers can damage them by ‘popping’ of a chunk of stone and can do larger amounts of damage to soft stones like marble and slate.”

He said that while cleaning stones, they straightened and raised three of them.

“Over time, the older white marble tablets will begin to lean, eventually snapping,” Douglass said. “Some of them just slowly drop into the ground, because there is no base to the stone. Hopefully next spring, we can make some progress addressing these stones before any damage occurs.”

Before and after images of a gravestone from the War of 1812 that had been cleaned. Submitted photo

Doing some research on old town reports, Belyea said that from 1994 to 2007, Peru had an active cemetery committee that cleaned stones, repaired or installed fences, cut trees and brush, seeded and fertilized. The committee submitted reports for the annual town report.

“My dad, Howard Donahue, a World War II veteran, was on that committee. The 2001 town report even has a picture of the cemetery committee, including my dad,” she said.

However, the town no longer has an active cemetery committee.

“There has not been any interest when the Select Board has run newspaper ads seeking cemetery committee volunteers. Times have changed,” said Belyea.

She said the town does have an obligation to maintain veterans’ stones, per Maine Title 13, Chapter 83, §1101, 1101-A, 1101-B, c. 524.

Belyea said Douglass plans to return to Peru in the spring of 2022 to continue his work of cleaning veterans’ stones.

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