When cleaning tombstones like the ones around Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, Jonathan Appell said it's important to remember many points while laboring and scrubbing.
One is to never use bleach on tombstones made of marble or granite. Those stones are actually porous, and using bleach can internally damage the stone, Appell said. Another is never to use metal brushes, because those can break down those surfaces.
Those were just a few of many lessons Appell taught to roughly 25-30 people at Mount Olivet Wednesday, as he wrapped up a 48-day tour of 48 states, highlighting how local communities can better preserve their historic cemeteries.
Appell has been doing the work since the mid-1980s, and is glad to spread his knowledge to the public. He also operates Atlas Preservation, a monument and building restoration supply company in Connecticut.
Appell and Moss Rudley, superintendent of the Historic Preservation Training Center of the National Park Service in Frederick, completed the 48-state tour Wednesday, showing the group skills on how to properly care for tombstones and monuments in cemeteries.
Big-box stores can't offer the same knowledge that he and Rudley have, Appell said.
"You can’t get advice from Ace Hardware or Home centers because the people are not knowledgable," he said. "They’ll offer the best advice they can, and I’m not saying their products are all bad, but they’re not professional and they’re not trained, and just not experienced in the field."
Both Appell and Rudley said Mount Olivet has a wide variety of monuments and tombstones, making it historically significant.
Rudley said the area provides numerous challenges when it comes to preservation. That could range from trees falling to mower damage to vandalism and other factors, he said.
"It’s got the whole suite of things," Rudley said. "So as a training ground, you can really give people an opportunity to learn and train from."
In recent years, education about what Appell and Rudley do has been improving, they said. One group in particular used to be at fault, but has been more aware, Appell added.
"Genealogists used to be some of the most guilty parties because they would be in a hurry to read a stone, and they would just clean the inscription really aggressively and just move on to the next one... even if it wasn’t their family," he said. "Now, the genealogists have become so well-educated in some respects that they’re afraid to do anything."
Many who showed up Wednesday asked about the D/2 biological solution and how to use that on tombstones. Appell said usually, given the weather is warm enough, one coat of D/2 is enough, as sunlight and Mother Nature will help the preservation process.
He added, however, that if people have come a long way to clean the stones, it might be worth applying a second coat.
Rudley said this education "is a mix of artistry, craftsmanship, technology and science."
"So to be able to use the right products, to have the right skill set, to be able to apply those products, and then understand the context in why we’re doing this and the materials is a balance between all these different things," Rudley said.
Chris Haugh, community relations and historic preservation manager for Mount Olivet, said Rudley and Appell have held workshops at the cemetery before. He was videotaping them cleaning a tombstone roughly 50-75 yards from the Key Memorial Chapel.
Some people might not think about the long-term preservation of cemetery tombstones and monuments, but it's important, Haugh said.
"When people put up stones, they really thought, a life isn’t forever. We all know that, it’s reality," Haugh said. "But a stone, you think a tombstone will last forever. And these things need maintenance ... From a cemetery’s perspective, we have perpetual care funds that help mow the grass and trim the trees and put new trees in. But the stones are really the property of the lot owners themselves."
"It's a concerted effort to, how can we stop the ravage of time, or at least provide maintenance?" Haugh added.
Appell said he's enjoyed working with local communities. He specifically commended those in Anamoose, North Dakota, one of the stops on his tour.
"It’s very energizing and that’s really the most rewarding [part] … I also do the work and I’m a craftsman, artisan of sorts, so it’s rewarding for me to actually do the work, and achieve something like, something’s broken in pieces and reconstruct it and it looks good," Appell said. "But then also teaching people is probably like the most rewarding aspect, and to me, the most difference in that respect."