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Headstone Cleaning Hobby Goes Viral

What started as a stress-reducing pandemic hobby has turned a local science teacher into a social media star.

Megan Barnes, an earth science teacher at Madison Central School, was walking through a cemetery near her Lake Moraine home. She noticed a few gravestones that were unmaintained.

“I’ve always been fascinated with old cemeteries. The headstones from the 1800s, to think that some guy sat there with a chisel and hand carved every single detail. The craftsmanship is just amazing,” Barnes said.

After digging out a few gravestones that had been buried over time, she did more research on the cemetery. She learned about the small number of people buried there.

“I couldn’t leave them like that,” she said of the unmaintained headstones she found in the little cemetery near her house, “and I started to research how to properly clean them.”

Barnes, who grew up in North Brookfield and graduated from Waterville, kept going, cleaning more and more local graves, including at North Brookfield Cemetery.

She said stones should not be cleaned with pressure washers or power tools. “No metal, no acid, no bleach,” Barnes said. “It’s really bad for the stone because it pulls the grains out [of the headstone].”

Using power washers with abrasive cleaners can leave a headstone unreadable, she added. “It loosens the grains. And then once you loosen the top grain, the water gets in there and freezes, and pulls all the other grains out. Over a couple of years, the stone, you can’t read it,” Barnes said.

With a background in earth science, specifically the study of rocks, Barnes knows her stuff about the gravestones she cleans.

She uses a non-damaging solution - D/2 Biological Solution - that does not remove the grain of the stone. She researched how Arlington National Cemetery cleans headstones. Barnes cleans with the solution the national cemetery uses, she said.

“They [Arlington] only allow very specific things to be used on all government monuments. It’s actually illegal to clean government-issued headstones with anything else,” Barnes said.

For older headstones, marble was a common material. “There was a lot of sandstone, too,” she said. “All of these marble ones,” she said,...


The full story is in this week's edition of the newspaper. 

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