“Gravestone conservation and historic stone preservation has become the art and science of preserving all we can of our heritage carved in stone.
By conserving historic gravestones, we help preserve that stone for future generations and for ourselves see a glimpse of the past.” – Jonathan Appell, Monuments’ Conservator
Back in September, BTG posted an article about how the local residents in Demersville, Montana wanted to preserve and restore the pioneer headstones in their local cemetery. Not content to just pull weeds and dust things off, they called in Jonathan Appell, a monuments conservator who travels all over the country offering cemetery preservation planning, headstone cleaning, and training workshops to local cemetery groups.
BTG caught up with him as he was driving through Wyoming to find out more about what he does and just how he became a Monuments’ Man.
Q: What’s your official title?
A: I’m a gravestone conservator.
Q: How long have you been doing the preservation/restoration workshops?
A: I’ve been doing this full-time for about 14 years.
Q: How did you get started?
A: I’ve got a diverse background. I attended violin making school, did some woodworking, making cabinets, building houses, etc. I got into monument business because of a friend who needed someone who could be responsible for site work and construction. In 1987, I became a grave-digger and then went on to become a cemetery contractor. This included excavation and other related things, such as foundations under modern monuments. Then I started doing repair work because I had the equipment to properly handle it. Eventually, I went on to training and field work and got more interested in historical work.
Q: Where have you offered your seminars?
A: All over the country. I’ve traveled to 30-odd states.
Q: What’s the difference you see between East Coast and West Coast preservation awareness?
A: The East Coast is where this is all coming from, for example, the Association of Gravestone Studies annual conference. There’s more historic interest on the east coast (Massachusetts and New England) because the history line is longer. It’s spreading through Ohio and Pennsylvania, but it’s sparser out west. There’s an interest, but not as much because the history timeline’s not so long out here.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge toward preserving old historic cemeteries?
A: There are several challenges. First, the awareness of historic timelines, then there are different problems in different places, depending on the stones and the types of stones, and the climate. Arid states have lesser deterioration, whereas cemeteries in areas with moisture and pollution will have issues.
A specific example I see is in West Virginia where companies are doing mountain top removal that not only impacts local houses, but also local cemeteries.
The long-term problem is that there are not enough younger people interested. My seminars attract an age range from middle-aged to the elderly. We need to somehow change this. This is hard physical work and many kids aren’t interested in it. Then there are the funding challenges—where’s the money coming from to keep all this up?
Q: How can people find out more about what your restoration seminars cover?
A: The best way to explain this is to direct people to the Lectures page on my website. There’s a detailed explanation on what I do that people can read up on in case they are unable to connect with me first hand. I’ve also posted several restoration videos on YouTube that people have found useful. In addition, check out the GravestonePreservation.info site that also has lots of helpful information.
For anyone wishing to contact Jonathan directly to discuss setting up a possible restoration workshop, he can be reached at (860) 558.2785, via email at email@example.com or through his Facebook page.