Northern Michigan in Focus: Gravestone Class

It may not be something many people think about, but an area historical society thinks these places are important to keep clean.

Corey Adkins explains in this week’s Northern Michigan in Focus.

“It’s being a steward for your family or for your area that you live in,” said Jane Purkis with the Benzie Area Historical Society.

Cemeteries: for some, they’re a peaceful place to relax and reflect but sometimes even time takes its toll on these places. 06 24 20 Nmif Gravestone

“First of all, walking around cemeteries is wonderful. I’ve done lots of research on Civil War veterans and World War I veterans, and it’s sad to see their some of their graves neglected. They don’t have family here anymore. And so it’s nice that we can do it from a historical standpoint,” explained Jane.

That’s where Jane Purkis of the Benzie Area Historical Society steps in.

“Cleaning gravestones, you need a little shovel. You need a stiff brush. A stiff sponge, smiley here works really well. A scraper and some kind of paint stick or a plastic scraper, absolutely nothing metal. A toothbrush and lots and lots of water,” advised Jane.

Most cemeteries provide water.

“I have no idea who is here. It could be a family stone or it could be for an individual. The only thing we know is there’s a flag here. So we assume that this is a veteran, but it is so covered with lichen. We have no idea. So let’s get started and clean a little and see if we can find out who this person is,” said Jane.

It doesn’t take that long, and you start to unravel who the person was.

“Looks like they may have been a child. Oh no, no, here’s a 7…74 years old. 74 years, seven months,” explained Jane.

A couple more scrapes and rinses, and the mystery is solved.  Ellen M. Knowlten, she died March 7, 1911.

Jane says she does this to hopefully give the person a voice again.

“As soon as I clean someone’s headstone, the first thing I do is go look at their military records, or Find a Grave to find out anything, and then maybe even make some phone calls to see if they still have family in the area. Once in a while we even get a photo. That’s great,” explained Jane.

Jane and the Benzie Area Historical Society will be hosting gravestone maintenance classes on how to do this if you’re interested.

You don’t have to be from Benzie County, anyone can come!

The first one is July 11 at 2 p.m. at the Champion Hill Cemetery just south of Honor.

“Anyone can come because the instructions are pretty easy. And so it goes for any cemetery. And then we’re doing another one on August 11 at Inland Township Cemetery,” explained Jane.

Maybe you can learn more about where you live by looking towards to past.

“What we’re hoping is that some people will come and show some ownership into each cemetery,” said Jane.

Categories: Northern Michigan In Focus