For the past year there has been an interest in cleaning up the Old Liberty Cemetery which is located about a quarter mile from Liberty’s Main Street on a high hill overlooking the Village.
Cemeteries and family plots which were privately owned were commonplace in America in the early to mid 1800’s. Liberty itself didn’t have a formal cemetery until 1811 when the Presbyterian Church purchased one acre of land on Cold Spring Road from the owner of the local grist mill located down the hill.
The cemetery was maintained by the Church until some point when ownership fell to the Town. Over the years it has been neglected and brush and brambles took over a once well-tended piece of Liberty’s history. Headstones were obscured, some toppled by vandals and others worn away by weather and acid-rain.
One thought came to mind as we were busy with clean-up efforts….. how might these stones be cleaned? Much of the names, dates and family information was hard to read and decipher. Rather than take the cleaning upon ourselves we found Marianne Greenfield of “Gravestone Cleaning Service” who not only has her own business in stone preservation but also presents programs & workshops on proper cleaning & repair of headstones.
One might ask why we would go to the trouble of cleaning stones in the first place. As Marianne explains, we must be aware that headstones & monuments are “irreplaceable historic artifacts bequeathed us by our ancestors to be cared for in perpetuity.” We should want to honor our ancestors and our history by keeping memorials clean and in good repair. We have to ask, however, does every stone need to be cleaned? Too often, well meaning people mistake patina for dirt. They want the stone to look as it did originally, and this is a misconception. It doesn’t have to look brand new and may be damaged if that is the end result. Long-term preservation should be the main focus.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in September we met in the Old section with Liberty High School Honor Students & school advisor, Ms. Cindy Nolan to learn first-hand how to correctly clean headstones under Greenfields direction.
We were instructed on proper care & the use of D/2, the preferred cleaner of stones for the National Park Service, Arlington, Gettysburg and other Federal sites. We were told never to use bleach, Dawn, Ivory Soap, Windex, Fantastic or other commercial cleaners which are destructive to the stone’s surface and can cause delamination and crumbling. Nylon brushes, never metal, are a must. Care and preservation of the stone is of utmost concern.
Equipped with buckets of water & scrub brushes we were directed to a stone of our own to clean. The freshly sprayed stones revealed bits of history that gradually exposed themselves. Names, dates, family relationships, Scripture verses and design motifs were brought to light.
Before and after photos documented the final reveal in the cleaning process.
While some students were cleaning stones others were busy clearing more ground & exposing areas of forgotten stones. How grateful we are to these young people who took an interest in helping to preserve our local history and reclaiming yet another area of forgotten sacred ground!