Brighton Historical Society Teaches Public How to Preserve Gravestones
The Gravestone Preservation Workshop Monday that drew more than 20 people from surrounding areas.
Old Village Cemetery - the oldest cemetery in Brighton - is getting a makeover thanks to the Brighton Area Historical Society (BAHS).
Many of the headstones inside the cemetery have fallen over, are broken or are leaning in their plots. After several years of annual spring clean-ups at the cemetery, fixing the headstones is the logical next step, according to Jim Vichich, president of the BAHS.
"To me, it's not very respectful when headstones are leaning or broken, because cemeteries should be taken care of," Vichich said. "Well all governments are in a challenge financially right now because of manpower and funding. The historical society recognizes that and we're ready to step in to try working on the improvements for that."
With that in mind, the BAHS hosted a Gravestone Preservation Workshop Monday with Jonathan Appell, a professional conservator from West Hartford, Connecticut. Appell has worked on some of the oldest cemeteries in the country. Appell travels all over the United States training people on cemetery preservation.
"History is important to give us a grounding for where we are today, we we've been and where we're going in the future," Appell said. "Often times the gravestones are the oldest surviving objects from bygone eras. I learn history backwards off the stone. Many times they're the only record that exists. It's a record of individual peoples' lives, but it reflects architecture and styles, the stones that were available in that time, religious symbolism which is reflected in the iconography on the stones and on and on. It's a big subject."
Appell said that rains and acids cause the most damage to cemetery headstones. There is also rising damp, where moisture rises out of the ground with salts mixed in.
Appell got to work after a presentation to more than 20 people from Brighton and surrounding areas, demonstrating the process on the oldest headstone in Old Village Cemetery.
The headstone was actually lost until several years ago, when the city partnered with the historical society to redo one side of the cemetery. In the process, they used a big shovel to rip up roots and overgrowth. The headstone was discovered buried about a foot and a half down, according to Vichich. The equipment also broke the stone when it was discovered.
Vichich said the historical society also discovered a discrepancy in St. Paul's Episcopal Church records when the headstone was uncovered. All records say that Truman Worden died Nov. 29, 1837. His headstone reads Nov. 29, 1838.
Appell put Brighton resident Bob Knight to work digging a hole to reposition the headstone in the ground.
Knight attended the workshop as a member of St. George Lutheran Church who is interested in learning how to repair the cemetery there.
"I see all of this and I'd love to come in and have the time, to just work here to fix it," he said. "Because I think it should be done in honor of the people here, just to make it look like a very nice cemetery. I think it should be done out of respect for the dead. And I'm sure most of the people in here don't have anybody to do it - or care to do it."
Vichich said this project will be decade long undertaking for the historical society.
"It's a very extensive problem in here," Vichich said of the leaning, broken headstones. "So it's going to take time. And the key thing to remember is that this damage didn't happen in 10 to 15 years. It's been going on every spring and fall when you have freezing and thawing."
The biggest cost for the historical society is labor, which they have in the form of volunteers. Everything else is coming out of the historical society's treasury right now, Vichich said.
The historical society first got involved with the cemetery three years ago because of its historical significance as the oldest cemetery in Brighton.
"We determined that this was something we wanted to take on as part of our contribution to the city because of all the founding fathers buried here," Vichich said.
Old Village Cemetery boasts a governor of Michigan and a Civil War Hero - Lt. Col. John Gilluly who died in the battle of Fredericksburg.
"What was reknowned about him was that he taught school in Brighton and got his law degree from the University of Michigan, so he was a practicing attorney," Vichich said. "Then he went and joined the call for arms that the president asked for."
For more information on the Brighton Historical Society, visit www.brightonareahistorical.com.