Preservation Briefs

Some of the web versions of the Preservation Briefs differ somewhat from the printed versions. Many illustrations are new and in color; Captions are simplified and some complex charts are omitted. To order hard copies of the Briefs, see Printed Publications.

Two men cleaning a grave marker and woman in a motorized wheel chair watching

Volunteers can undertake cleaning of grave markers once they have received initial training. Cleaning methods may include wetting the stone, using a mild chemical cleaner, gently agitating the surface with a soft bristle brush, and thoroughly rinsing the marker with clean water. Photo: Jason Church.



Preserving Grave Markers
in Historic Cemeteries

Mary F. Striegel, Frances Gale, Jason Church and Debbie Dietrich-Smith

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Cemeteries found across the country are not only places of burial, but they also provide a vivid record of community history. Whether large or small, well maintained or neglected, historic cemeteries are an important part of our cultural landscape. The vast richness of expression through form, decoration and materials informs our understanding of the individuals buried in historic cemeteries and their cultural significance.

While cemeteries are often considered to be perpetual, their most prominent feature—the grave markers—are not. They weather, naturally decay, often are poorly maintained and repaired and, on occasion, are vandalized. Grave markers are usually noteworthy not only for their inscriptions but also for their craftsmanship. Exceptional markers are considered works of art.

This Preservation Brief focuses on a single aspect of historic cemetery preservation—providing guidance for owners, property managers, administrators, in-house maintenance staff, volunteers, and others who are responsible for or are interested in preserving and protecting grave markers. Besides describing grave marker materials and the risk factors that contribute to their decay, the Brief provides guidance for assessing their conditions and discusses maintenance programs and various preservation treatments.