CLARKSBURG — Cemeteries are more than simply resting places for departed loved ones.
"This is history and it's more than what you find in books," said Irving Slavid, president of Monument Conservation Collaborative. "It's husbands, wives, children, you find them all here."
The group is based in Norfolk, Conn., and restoration specialists are working on the second year of a planned 10-year grave marker restoration at town cemeteries. Current work is occurring at a Henderson Road cemetery and future work is planned for another small and very old cemetery near the corner of Middle and Horrigan roads.
Weather, erosion, vandalism and other factors can ravage markers, making them unreadable or breaking them, he said. Often the oldest stones have interesting family information chiseled into the material.
Dylan Johnson and Michael Carter, both of Norfolk, were working on several very old headstones on Wednesday. One had an April 28, 1847, date of death inscribed while other markers not yet restored were illegible.
Most of the gravestones along the line undergoing work were dull gray except for one very white stone. Cleaning brought out the whiteness, Slavid said.
"These stones are marble and if you cleaned them all, they would be white," he said. "We try to restore the stones as found; we do not add anything or embellish anything."
Care is taken to use materials that will prevent and protect against future environmental effects, he said.
Another marker receiving repair had been broken some years back and replaced without the broken piece. That meant that the some of the words carved into the marble were covered with earth; when MCC workers removed the marker to replace the broken piece and reset it, a dirt-covered Bible verse of some length was revealed.
The town project began last year after town meeting voters approved $4,900 be spent on repairs. The same amount was approved at this year's town meeting to continue the work.
The start of most repair and restoration projects requires identification of stones that may pose a hazard of tipping over or heavy sections breaking apart and striking someone. If hazards are found, they are repaired first, Carter said.
MCC has completed cemetery work at the Southlawn Cemetery in Williamstown and the Mahaiwe Cemetery in Great Barrington. Much of the work is done in New England but the firm has tackled projects in Florida and performed major restoration work in American Samoa following a 2009 tsunami.
The company has a 26-year history. Along with Slavid, partner and Vice President Martin Johnson, stone mason consultant Karl Munson, preservation scientist consultant Norman R. Weiss, conservator and consultant Christine S. Djuric and stone carver and conservator Allison Blake Schofield make up the expert team.
Carter is a first year employee and said that he is learning a lot about marker restoration. The job is physically labor intensive.
"It does take a couple days to get used to working in a cemetery," he said.