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Shovel hits the dirt

Gravestone Guardians of Ohio is very honored to provide you with the following summation of what we do when it comes to tombstone & cemetery restoration work, & show you why we are different than most in this business. Our training tells us, there is a big difference between the old marble & sandstone tombstones & monuments found in historic cemeteries, versus the granite markers found in more modern cemetery sections. Our experience has taught us that to restore & preserve the older markers; a specialized type of care is needed. This care can only be given by a tombstone & cemetery conservator who has the correct knowledge.

The basic differences between us, Gravestone Guardians of Ohio, “a conservator of tombstones”, & a monument company, “those who set modern monuments”, are quite simple & are as follows.

What we offer.

It begins with proper knowledge. We have taken & continue training with the NCPTT, “The National Center for Preservation Technology & Training”, “and a division of the national park service”. This is the organization that conservators from across the country go to, to be trained in all aspects of preservation that concerns historical buildings & monuments to cemeteries & historical sites. We have trained alongside people from the Gettysburg & Vicksburg Nation Battlefield park systems, to those who preserve historical buildings throughout the eastern seaboard.  These classes are a mecca of historical preservation knowledge & are taught by the country’s top conservators. We feel training doesn’t get any better than this.

The next most important thing is finding & using proper materials for preservation & restoration. This is a key factor since all the knowledge in the world will do little good if you use the wrong materials & tools. We use specific specialized mortars & color matched infill’s to address tombstone breaks, cracks, & material loss issues. This is one of the most crucial elements since this is something that is being adhered to the stone. These items cannot be found at a local hardware, they must come from one of the few companies that deal with historic preservation. They must also be as close to the stones makeup as possible to ensure breathability for the stone as it goes through the seasonal changes of freeze & thaw.

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Multiple stages in the preservation process. 

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Proper cleaning techniques will & always do come into play on any cemetery preservation project. There are only a couple of safe ways to clean a tombstone, & many that are harmful. We prefer to use D/2 Biological Solution. A product that has been widely endorsed & used by the National Battlefield Park Systems including Arlington Cemetery, & has been endorsed by the Veterans Administration. It has also been used to clean the Alamo & the Acropolis in Athens Greece as well as 3 ½ million tombstones. This is a safe time released product that is very unobtrusive to the stone, the environment, & the user. Orvus soap is also used for initial cleaning to remove heavier soiling. Orvus is gentle enough to use on antique quilts made of vegetable died materials.

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We thoroughly clean all Tombstones & bases with safe non acidic cleaners approved by the NCPTT, PTN, NPS, & the Association of Gravestone Studies.

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Proper repair techniques consist of bridging good training & good repair materials. Every stone is different in its own way & should be addressed on a stone by stone basis to ensure the best repair possible. For example, it’s knowing how to use the right epoxy in the right place to reconnect the broken pieces of a 150 year old marble tablet. It’s knowing how to best lay infill so the inscription is not compromised. And it’s knowing how to deal with a crumbling sandstone & when to apply a consolidate.

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Repairs for common single breaks are more straight forward, were as multiple breaks require finding as many of the pieces as possible. In some cases a careful blending of repair material is done to fill in gaps and chips & match it to stone color. Every Tombstone is accessed individually.

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The progression of repair with new base & before infill is applied.

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An example of a stone that was originally pinned by a construction crew with no training in cemetery conservatorship. The pin job failed in less than 2 years & was very unnecessary. This company pinned this with everything from broken drill bits to odd screws & bolts.

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We reset all types & sizes of tombstones & monuments. A single tablet is one that is merely leveled & placed at a depth 1/3 directly in the ground. A single tablet & base is a tablet style stone in a rectangular base. The base is properly leveled & the stone is put back in the base.

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We repair a wide variety of tombstones & monuments & work with sandstone, marble, & granite.

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Proper resetting techniques should always remain true to the setting the stone originally had with a few acceptations pertaining to loss of original base, or severe loss of lower stone. These can be addressed by pouring a new base & possibly shortening the stone to preserve the inscription of the stone as well as its integrity for many years to come. Tombstones should never be placed in big wet puddles of concrete nor should they be reattached to bases with traditional mortars. Modern concreted & mortars are much harder than the tombstones or bases & will cause the tombstone to give way & fracture rather than the mortar or concrete, & in turn cause much damage if not fatal damage to the stone. We use pea gravel & sand so the stone can breathe & move naturally & not fight the elements of nature’s thaw & freeze.

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Putting the tri-pod to use for this granite marker.

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 Some involve disassembly of obelisks & multi-piece monuments.

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Proper mapping & documenting is being the Sherlock Holmes that is needed before you place a shovel to the dirt & become Indiana Jones. All possible information such as maps, burial records, & land records should be gathered first. The cemetery should be measured against say a WPA map to do a basic land survey so you are able to best determine the original rows. After this has been accomplished, you can lay out rows with strings or marker paint & begin probing for stones & bases that have been covered over time. Using GPR, “ground penetrating radar” is another tool that should be brought into play to detect underground disturbances that may show unmarked graves. The most thorough way to ensure that nothing has been missed is to excavate the entire area at a depth of 4-6 inches down by gridding it out & working one grid at a time. This is where it becomes more like an archaeological dig.

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This is a WPA map drawn up in 1932. It is the only known map for a cemetery that dates to 1823. We are using it as a starting point to flesh in the history of this cemetery to combine what it used to look like vs what it looks like today.

The documented history of a cemetery will not only be invaluable to those bringing a cemetery back from the brink of neglect, but will become a historical source for the areas local history. This process will become one of the first steps when working toward a possible grant.

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We offer a wide variety of consulting to meet your needs.
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What most modern monument companies offer.

This knowledge concerning the preservation of old tombstones is practically unheard of by most monument companies. Monument companies for the most part only deal in the realm of the modern granite tombstone & continue to use old outdated technology meant for the modern granite marker. Many of these companies use harmful quick fix solutions that greatly shorten the life of old tombstones. Many would just rather replace everything old & historic with new modern granite markers, begging the question, why preserve anything at all?

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The stone to the right was not only placed hurriedly & thrown together with a gooey substance but, to add insult to that injury, it was also aggressively bleached. This was done by a reputable monument company in the Dayton Ohio area with over a hundred years of experience. 

Most of the materials that monument companies prefer to use are modern concretes & mortars found at the local hardware. There general conclusion is to dig a big hole & stick it into a blob of concrete or pour a wide enough & deep enough pad to park a car on. Concrete naturally resists water & soil when in contact with the ground, especially when it is placed below grade to secure an object. All concrete pads float; this is why it is known as placing concrete, not pouring it.  What we plant in the ground is bound to sink & shift some. Why do damage to it by anchoring it with globs of concrete that will only harm the stone & do nothing to solve the issue.

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This repair was done by a monument co. as part of a $10,000.00 project.

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When it comes to gravestone cleaning, most monument companies have never heard of D/2, bio-wash, or photo flow mixes for safe cleaning. These companies will many times resort to sandblasting, power wheel cleaning, power-washing, using bleach, or other harmful chemicals that give a brand new appearance, but greatly harm the stone. When such things are applied, irreversible damage is caused that begins the death knell of the stone. Marble stones in particular have one type of coating or skin when they are formed beneath the earth, & produce another when they have been exposed to the elements, such as in a cemetery for 100 – 200 years. Harsh chemicals or sandblasting removes this protective skin & opens the pores of the stone leaving them defenseless.

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The above is a study done by an Indiana conservator to show the rapid deterioration of a marble stone after it has been stripped of its outer skin through Nyalox cleaning. This 168 yr. old stone won’t see 10 more years due to this destructive technique.

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Repair techniques most often used by monument companies can be wide ranging & depend on what the level of their knowledge is. Some have & use proper epoxies & some don’t. Again, most of these companies revert back to what they use on new monuments or old technologies such as pinning. Pinning is for the most part, is an outdated practice & is rarely used by conservators. So many go with what can be found in the masonry isle at the hardware or push for a replacement stone.

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This poor pinning job caused this stone to blow out the backside when it went through a freeze & thaw cycle.

Documenting & mapping your cemetery project will most likely be left up to you & your resources. This is something the monument company will most likely expect you to have accomplished before they begin work. This means all of your mapping, probing, & excavating will have to be done & determinations concerning repairs & conditions on stones that have been found will then revert to what the monument company feels it can salvage.

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When it comes to your cemetery project or your ancestors tombstone, we will do our best to work with any given cemetery’s rules and regulations to ensure your wishes are met.

We are committed to the historical preservation of your family’s graveside.


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