Uncovering the stories

There is a staggering amount of history contained inside Marietta’s three cemeteries. Mound, Oak Grove and Harmar cemeteries contain hundreds of 100- and even 200-year-old grave stones, belonging to everyone from Revolutionary War generals to oil tycoons to school teachers.

But with that much history behind them, many of those stones have started to show their age. Mold and lichens are covering the stones. Some are already illegible.

“There is not a shortage of stones that need cleaned, repaired, or reset,” said Chris Painter, a founding member of Marietta Cemeteries Coming Alive (MCCA).

Formed early this year, the community-based group’s initial goal was, and still is, to create digital maps of Marietta’s three cemeteries.

“Our initial goal was to have just that data available to the public. But data entry from these handwritten records is very slow going,” said Painter.

As they chip away at the record transcription, the group and community volunteers have been busily cleaning some of the cemeteries’ older stones.

Groups such as the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County and volunteers from Marietta College have chipped in with grave stone cleaning and seem to have a good time doing it, said Misti Spillman, MCCA member and education director at The Castle.

“I think the younger people really enjoy it because it gives instant results. They can see the stone getting cleaner,” she said.

The task is easier than one might think and requires little special equipment, said Painter.

“You use Orvus soap. I just get it at Tractor Supply. It’s very gentle. It’s actually used to clean horses,” she explained.

A tiny drop of the soap, a nylon bristled brush, and a little hard scrubbing is all it takes to make a powerful visual difference.

Together the group and community volunteers have cleaned a few dozen headstones in Mound and Harmar cemeteries and more work is planned for Oak Grove Cemetery during the upcoming Make a Difference Day Oct. 26.

“About 50 college students will be coming to Oak Grove to repair the drains and clean some stones there,” Painter said.

The drainage that runs along the several roads that surround and run through the cemetery have deteriorated and become clogged over the years, added Painter.

MCCA’s original goal has not been forgotten as its members work to clean graves. The group has been working with Bret Allphin, development director and manager of the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) program for Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley Regional Development District, to create an informational digital map of Mound Cemetery.

“They were able to give us a scanned image of a plat map showing who owned the plots and I took that map and digitized it, which allows us to do things like give each plot attributes,” explained Allphin.

When finished, the maps will be hosted online and individuals will be able to click a plot and see information like who owns it, who is buried there, his or her birth and death years, pictures, and links to other relevant information.

“I’m entering all that data now. In the next few months, we hope to have the basic historical map online,” said Allphin.

The group is also accepting donations through its Marietta Community Foundation account to fund a spring grave stone restoration seminar that would teach techniques beyond cleaning the headstones.