Jun 10

This photograph was taken just before yesterday evening’s thunderstorm in the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg. This view was taken facing north at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

Over the years we’ve done a number of postings that take place within the Soldiers National Cemetery, and whenever we cover other cemeteries (or even other national cemeteries) it is disappointing to note that many (too many) of the headstones in Gettysburg are in dire need of cleaning. Last Saturday, the Friends of Gettysburg cleaned a few small sections of headstones as part of their Volunteer Workday.

We waited until the thunderstorm passed before coming back to take pictures — the backs of these headstones here, on the right after entering from the Baltimore Street entrance, show some of the brown chemical residue which has yet to completely wash away. This view was taken facing southwest at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

In fact, the simplest way to tell which headstones have had their fronts cleaned at this point is to note the discoloration of the grass around the headstones. The three headstones in the bottom left have not been cleaned. This view was facing north at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

Even though this one round of cleaning hasn’t made these stones a clean white like those at Arlington, the improvement in legibility and appearance is significant. This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

Here’s an example of headstones in the cemetery which the Friends did not clean, to give you an idea how much residue can and has built up over time. This view was facing northwest at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

As the State of Texas’ Handbook on Preservation of Historic Cemteries points out: “Not all stains can be removed. Do not expect the stones to appear new after cleaning.”  It also advises that cleaning of “marble, limestone, or sandstone” grave markers should not be undertaken more than once every 18 months, due to the potential damage to the face of the stone. This view was taken facing west at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

Some of our readers have asked us in the past why the Veterans Administration or the National Park Service doesn’t replace headstones, especially in cases where the words on the stone are almost illegible. This view was taken facing north at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

Here at Gettysburg, the only way to get a headstone replaced in the event that it has become too dirty, or illegible, is for a family member of the deceased to request that it be replaced. This view was taken facing north at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

We are aware of only a handful of instances where this has occurred in the Soldiers National Cemetery. This view was taken facing southwest at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

This is why we’re especially grateful that the Friends have at least begun the process of restoring and cleaning some of these headstones for the veterans … This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

… and their spouses. In the approximately 130 national cemeteries the Veteran’s Administration provides a government headstone or marker at no cost for the veteran, but does not provide headstones for spouses/dependents if they elect to be buried with the veteran. This is why you will find the names of spouses/dependents on the back of the headstone. This view was taken facing south at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

This view was taken facing north at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

We applaud efforts to clean and restore the condition of many of the markers/memorials within the cemetery and hope that these efforts will be extended to the entirety of the cemetery in the future. This view was taken facing west at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, June 9, 2011.


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