Adopt- A Stone Effort for Cameron Cemeteries
There are roughly 1000 headstones in need of repair and restoration in Cameron’s cemeteries. While many can be renewed through a relatively simple, though time consuming, cleaning process others need to be picked-up, reassembled, and reset. Almost all need new bases. Knowing that far more stones are in need of repair than there is money available, Public Works Director Drew Bontrager reached out to cemetery restorationists for more information and creative approaches.
Of the responses received, the Cemetery Board was most intrigued by the approach taken by the Lexington Historical Society. Drew invited Dave Snyder of Jacob’s Ladder Cemetery Restoration and Don Coen of Machpelah Cemetery to come speak to the board, city staff, and to members of the Cameron Historical Society about the approach Lexington took to restore the cemetery and the Adopt-A-Stone program specifically.
Jacobs Ladder has been restoring cemeteries for 11 seasons. According to Dave Snyder began restoring cemeteries after they bought a property 25 years ago that included an old cemetery (civil war and slave graves). They wanted to honor the people buried there believing their success was build on the hard work of generations before them. They sought out a semi-retired restorationist and learned a lot. In 2008 they took on their first projects the largest of which was 225 stones in Keytesville. Jacobs Ladder Cemetery Restoration specializes in turn-of-the century stones and older. Marble and sandstone restorations being the most common. They do between 600-800 stones a season in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, and Iowa. They restore mausoleums, statues, and cemetery entrances as well as the cleaning, repairing, resetting, and resealing grave stones. Dave was very generous and told the city a simple recipe to safely clean stones. According to Dave, 98 percent of the time if you clean the stones you can read them again.
Machpelah Cemetery Sexton, Don Coen, said that they often schedule scout troops and school groups to come out and clean the grave stones. According to Don, this approach not only teaches a younger generation to appreciate generations that have gone before. The cemetery hosts walking tours and even informational scavenger hunts for students. The Lexington Historical Society has even had a Halloween tour where society members chose a person’s stone, researched them, and reenacted an aspect of their story or their death.
One point that excited many in attendance was a stand-alone electronic cemetery directory. The directory can be queried by last name, first name, and map location. Families can include a photo, obituary, memorial story and even recognizes veterans separately. The entire project including run 400 ft of underground electric and an open shelter house for $30,000 (all of which was raise in the community). Machpelah has had the directory for about six years. The military grade hardware allows the unit to run all year and withstand the elements.
Though the stand-alone directory excited the group, all agreed that the Adopt-A-Stone program was the best place to begin Cameron’s cemetery restorations. Basically, people so inclined can sponsor a grave stone restoration by donating $75. According to Drew Bontrager that is right at what it has cost the City to restore stones in the past. In Lexington it is common for community organization and individuals to choose a specific family of stones, or a stone with a personal tie (family of childhood friend, founding member of an organization, or builder of current home).
Presentations took place in the Railroad Depot Museum on March 26 and the Cemetery Board discussed which ideas they believed could work and how to proceed during their annual meeting on April 22.
The City of Cameron is responsible for Evergreen, Packard, Graceland, and Graceland Memorial cemeteries all located on east Evergreen as you head to I-35 and for McDaniel Cemetery on the north side of Old Highway 36. Many of the gravestones in the cemeteries date to the late 1800s and the founding of Cameron in 1855. The oldest stone we could find was from 1829. Look for more information from the city about how to Adopt-A-Stone in the coming weeks.