confessions of novice

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13 Confessions of a Novice Cemetery Hunter

I have a confession. As a child, I shut my eyes whenever we drove past a cemetery, afraid I would DIE just by looking at it! And reading anything in the horror genre, forget about it!

Nancy Drew Mysteries and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey were about as “scary” as I got. Even Jane Eyre was off limits!!

cemeterySo, when my friend asked me to pick up denture brushes, large syringes, and a pack of those cuticle board/stick thingies, and meet her at a forsaken cemetery, I kinda freaked. Besides being an anthropologist and a horror script writer, Laurel owns her own cemetery restoration business. What is that you ask? Why, it’s “Someone who fixes up and restores cemeteries.” But what in the world did denture brushes, cuticle boards, and syringes have to do with it??

I would soon find out!

Thankfully, I survived that first expedition and discovered a passion for the whole cemetery restoration process.

Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  1. All headstones aren’t created equal. I knew there were different colors, but I didn’t know they used different types of stone—limestone, granite, marble, fieldstone/brownstone. I thought they were all just a generic rock.
  2. cemetery1Denture brushes and cuticle boards are great for scrubbing and scrapping off growth and mold. While large syringes are great for injecting epoxy into the cracks of spalling stones. (Spalling: when the layers of fieldstone start to separate and the face of the stone is in danger of falling off.)
  3. Yoga pants (ones with a happy skulls pattern!) and pigtails may be comfy and cute but they’re not conducive to cemetery hunting. Chances are you’ll be hiking over hill-and-dale—these cemeteries are forsaken for a reason—and untangling yourself from briars every five seconds gets old, fast. At least I was smart enough to wear rubber boots!
  4. Cemeteries do NOT have alarm systems!
    • Laurel convinced me to climb over the rock wall at one of the cemeteries because the gate was locked. As soon as my foot touched hallowed ground, there was a horrendous noise, sending me in the air and into Laurel’s arms. I thought for sure I’d tripped the burglar alarm! Apparently it was just a horse. Yeah, a possessed horse from hell!! I will never live that down.
  5. NEVER use duct tape to fix a headstone! I know it’s supposed to fix everything, but just don’t. Don’t even joke about it! Seriously, Laurel will find you!
  6. Any metal tools you use—crowbars for lifting fallen stones or dowels for locating sunken headstones—it’s best to coat the tips with rubber.
  7. It’s not smart to charge in like a happy-crazy person with a weed whacker and hack up the weeds around headstones. Damage will ensue! Use scissors or a machete for the close-up work. (If you actually used scissors to clear an entire cemetery, then you’d be a crazy-crazy person, just saying.)
  8. cemetery2It’s possible to drink coffee and clean a headstone. Coffee with the dead! (Hmmm, book title potential?)
  9. There’s a difference between a cemetery and a graveyard. Who knew?
    • A graveyard is a section of a churchyard set aside for the burial of church members. Graveyards are generally better maintained because the church personally sees to its maintenance.
    • Cemeteries are associated more to a community than a certain organization. It’s the responsibility of all.
  10. As long as there’s a cemetery nearby, I can tell you which was is north! Cemeteries are oriented east-west with the majority of the headstones facing east—ready for the Lord’s return. If all the headstones face north-south, it’s either fake or a mistake.
  11. Sometimes you will find bones when digging up headstones.
  12. Snakes! Spiders! Deer! Oh my! Yeah, you’re not alone out there. And “ghosts” like to mess with your camera settings, pull your hair, steal your keys, flit by in the corner of your eye.
  13. I wasn’t prepared for the “stories” in these forgotten cemeteries. I was very emotional at times. The service men and women. The unmarked and unknown. The newborn and young child. The love written on stone for all to read.

Restoring cemeteries turned out to be truly fascinating. It’s kinda like being Indiana Jones with a dash of Sherlock Holmes!

And now that I’ve faced my fear, next up, conquering space! Wonder if there are any cemeteries there? Maybe hanging out with Katherine Blakeney will answer that. Who knows? I may learn to love space as much as cemeteries. While we all wait “patiently” for Digging In The Stars, we can bide our time by stalking Katherine’s Facebook page and website. She definitely has an Indiana Jones vibe that I’m digging!

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4 Comments on “confessions of novice”

  1. While I’ve never been afraid of cemeteries, I am even more fascinated! I had no idea that they were all facing east. I just figured it was a tidy way of keeping the graves. Katherine style of writing sounds fun. I’ll definitely check out her fb!

  2. How cool! I didn’t know most of that cemetery information. My mind is whirling with a story of someone like you, Janelle, or Laurel. Or a story of a woman who restores cemeteries, but who has lost her family and is alone, afraid to love again. I see the book as a love story with a hint of mystery. She notices different things about a certain tombstone and realizes someone is visiting it during weird hours – not when she’s working. But one day she decides to stick around late at night to find out who she’s missing. Blah, blah, blah. You know me. I can create stories from thin air. I need to stop this imagination and go brush my teeth. Ha! Thank you for sharing these fun facts, especially around the spooky tradition of Halloween.

  3. This is SO AWESOME. I can’t wait to go explore a cemetery now…. (I hope that’s not weird). How would one get into this business even? Definitely cool 🙂

    1. Start by photographing and transcribing headstones – learn wear patterns, breakage style by stone type, how the dirt and lichens grow inside and on the different types of stone. Just study different cemeteries until you’re able to glance at a stone and know the stone. Then learn how to read them – stones that are illegible to most should be clearly legible to you. THEN read up on basic masonry and how to maintain and clean without damaging.

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