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Cemetery Preservation

Why Preserve?

 Why preserve or protect cemeteries? They are memorials to the past that offer a unique view of our history, culture, and way of life. Their existence adds much to our understanding of the history of Illinois and its people. Here you will find information on cemetery laws, preservation of headstones and cemeteries, what to do if you discover human remains, educational publications, application for a permit to do work at a cemetery, web resources and much more. Use the links at the right to explore.

View NPS Preservation Brief 48: Preserving Grave Markers in Historic Cemeteries​

Highlighting Cemetery Preservation Projects…

​Spring Cleaning!

With spring just around the corner it's the time to plan our list of outside projects. While some of us want to clear out the garage or clean up the yard, others want to fix up a cemetery. Before getting started, consider what you want to do and how you will accomplish it. For starters, let's talk about cleaning markers and some of the Do's and Don'ts involved. 

First and foremost, remember the cardinal rules of cemetery preservation:

  • Do no harm;
  • Take no action that cannot be undone; and
  • When in doubt, contact the Illinois Historic Preservation Division.

Next, ask "Why do I want to clean the marker?" Remember it is better to only clean the marker once in five years. Also if the surface is fragile or fragmented, don't clean it at all.

D​​o... Don't...
​Use w​​ater & a soft brush ​Use household cleaners - e.g. bleach
​Clean entire marker ​Use wire, stiff-bristle, or rotary brushes
​​Use approved biological cleaner - e.g. D/2
Choose power tools - drills, washers​
​​Expect some discoloration - its normal ​Clean until the stone is white

Step-by-step instructions for Cleaning Grave Markers.pdf are provided here.

Availability of the biological cleaner D/2, Conservation Talk​AGS Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 23-24; Fall 2012.

Problems and Solutions

A common misconception is that extra cleaning is good for a grave marker. In fact, over-cleaning creates several problems:

  • Removes historic patina from the marker
  • Causes deterioration and
  • Loss of information over time.

A recurring negative issue is the use of power washers and rotary brushes to clean grave markers. The Illinois Preservation Agency, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) of the National Park Service and several professional conservators discourage the use of these tools because of the damage they can cause.

To explain why power washers and rotary tools are detrimental to grave markers and should not be used, Dr. Michael Trinkley, Chicora Foundation, Inc., wrote a column called "Conservation Talk" for the 2010 spring issue of the AGS Quarterly: Bulletin of the Association for Gravestone Studies. The Association for Gravestone Studies (​) promotes the study and conservation of grave markers and burial grounds. Follow the link below to read Dr. Trinkley's views on the subject.

Rotary brushes and power washers, Conservation Talk​AGS Quarterly, Spring 2010, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 21.