Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Cemetery restoring stones in original burial ground

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Perhaps the only place in Duneland whose use and appearance have remained unchanged since the area was originally settled--some 180 years ago--is the extreme southwest corner of Chesterton Cemetery, where the first settlers of what years later would become the Town of Chesterton were buried.

The glade, overlooking Coffee Creek, is lovely and peaceful and the old headstones seem as natural and fitting a part of it as the trees and grass. But there’s a sadness there too: time has had its way with the stones, the names on many have been weathered to illegibility, and for all practical purposes some of those buried nearly two centuries ago are now resting in unmarked graves.

In other cases, headstones have simply cracked--or been damaged by vandals. “Some of the older stones are slabs, which are more prone to breakage,” said Hugh Hopkins, who sits on the Chesterton Cemetery Association. “Or their foundations have deteriorated.”

In the normal way of things, lot owners themselves are responsible for maintaining the stones of their loved ones, Hopkins noted. But families have a way of unrooting and dispersing--and that’s a sadness too--“so there may be no one around anymore to tend to the repair of the older stones.”

Which is a shame, Hopkins said, a kind of slow seepage of this community’s history. “The cemetery reflects the history of Chesterton. Many of the original settlers are buried here, like the Morgans and Thomases, going back to the 1830s. The many varied stones reflect this history.”

So Chesterton Cemetery has done what it can to preserve the history of the southwest corner, by retaining the services of Stone Hugger Restoration Inc., a Nashville, Ind., firm specializing in the restoration of headstones and monuments.

Late last month, Stonehugger owner Helen Wildermuth and her crew visited Chesterton Cemetery--their third visit over the last few years--to work on 18 stones. “They are experts in their work and are well equipped with water tanks for cleaning, cement mixers for foundation work, and generators to run their tools, plus all the supplies needed for properly cleaning the stones,” Hopkins said.

Wildermuth began restoring headstones 15 years ago, after developing an interest in genealogy and discovering that “weather, Mother Nature, algae, tree damage, mowing, and vandalism” all work slowly to erase and erode the trove of family histories contained in cemeteries. “I went to a workshop and it took off from there,” she told the Chesterton Tribune. “I found out I could make a difference, make the stones readable again, give them back their information.”

Certainly cemeteries have stories to tell, Wildermuth said. “The thing that’s always struck me is the number of family members who died within weeks or months of each other. Dying of things we can’t imagine. Epidemics. That just breaks my heart to see that.”

Restoring headstones, accordingly, is Wildermuth’s way of honoring the past. “It’s all about respect,” she said. “Respecting the dead, respecting history, respecting ancestors, making the information available again to family members, making it available to anyone who visits the cemetery. It’s all right there. It’s a great thing the management of Chesterton Cemetery is doing, taking the initiative to reverse the neglect over the years.”

The services provided by Stone Hugger Restoration are important but not inexpensive, Hopkins said. A visit costs $4,000. “But for that they can clean a lot of stones and repair foundations and broken stones. We encourage anyone to come out to the cemetery and look at the work that’s been accomplished in the old sections.”

Hopkins is also encouraging those interested in Chesterton’s history to consider making a donation to defray the cost of the restoration. For more information, visit the cemetery office.

 

Posted 10/19/2017

 
 
 
 

 

 

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