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Crew helps preserve Oakwood Cemetery gravestones

Pictured in the front row, from left, are Laura Leppink, Tu Htoo, Eh Moo, Adele Johnson and Jacob Bransky. In the back row, from left, are Cal Umlauf, Edward Harthorn and Collin Couey. Photo by Cindy Thury Smith1 / 2
Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps crew members gather around as they prepare to reassemble one of the grave markers that they were repairing. Michelle Wirth / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

The Oakwood Cemetery Association was hoping to get some help with lawn maintenance that had been getting more and more difficult; instead, they found themselves with a team of historic preservationists on July 23 and 24.

The eight member crew assisted with cleaning and straightening several grave markers in the cemetery. The group also trained some of the members of the Friends of LeDuc and Historic Hastings on how to clean the stone and marble markers by using water and elbow grease.

Edward Harthorn, cemetery restoration technical specialist with Northern Bedrock, said that the group was looking for another day of work in the area when he came across an article in the Hastings Star Gazette.

"We heard about this historic cemetery and figured that even though they were mostly looking for people to help out with the grounds work, we thought that the odds were probably good that they needed some help with stone repair and cleaning too," Harthorn said.

The crew helped clean some of the lichen off the older marble stones and helped repair some of the older gravestones that had started leaning. There are several reason why a stone begins leaning over time. Harthorn said that it could be that the soil is soft underneath the stone or erosion could be a factor. But in most cases, Harthorn said that the old wooden caskets implode over time and cause an indentation that makes the marker prone to leaning or even falling. However, "fallen markers might also be due to a fallen tree, heavy winds or vandalism," he said. In order to fix tilted markers, Harthorn said that the crew will often reset the gravestone with a tripod. The tripod is a contraption with three beams that helps lift the stone and reset it. They level out the base, clean the joints between the different sections of the grave marker, add spacers and carefully reattach the sections. A monument setting compound is used to reattach the pieces.

This photo shows before and after lichen was cleaned off the stone of a grave marker. Submitted photo

Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps is an AmeriCorps program located in Duluth. The group is made up of young adults who work over the course of six months on historic sites and structures across the state of Minnesota. They receive a stipend and educational award for their service.

Cemeteries are not the only sites that the group helps in preservation efforts. Harthorn said that they are always looking for more cemeteries but they also help with historical structures.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

(651) 319-4503
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