The Good Cemeterian

Andrew Lumish spends his free time in an unlikely place: cemeteries. On his weekly day off, he spends about ten hours using his cleaning skills to restore veterans’ tombstones around Tampa, Florida. To honor veterans for serving their country, Lumish taught himself how to properly clean graves. He found out the system the government uses for national cemeteries—including Arlington—and got to work.

Lumish tries to post four new pictures a week on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheGoodCemeterian/.

He scours genealogy sites to find the deceased’s backstory. He’ll share details like their hometowns, battles they fought in, wives, and businesses—and those stories can get juicy. “Some of these guys, who some consider heroes, would leave their wife for another woman, and leave six kids,” says Lumish. “It’s a war hero who won a medal of honor for serving in the Civil War and was thrown in jail for not paying child support. … It’s like Real Housewives of 1895.”

You can read this story of a good — no, great — samaritan at http://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/good-cemeterian-cleaning-tombstones/.

16 Comments

Thank you for an inspiring story…what type of solution is best to use on tombstones. Roger@lamborne.com. Thank you.

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SENSATIONAL!
But how can the story, on the one hand, say each headstone takes from three weeks to four months to finish, but the two paragraphs later say Boy Scouts were completing projects in a day or two”? Which is correct? If people knew they could do a pretty good to very good job in one day or even a few hours, more people would make a trip to clean an ancestor’s grave marker.

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    The amount of time needed to clean a marker varies with the number of people involved & how fast you want to get that marker clean. I have left other posts on this page with details about varying D/2 cleaning methods. The longest period of cleaning for me so far was six months – flooded a marker with D/2 in April, returned in October for a final cleaning &/or scrubbing if necessary. Some flat markers get clean after a single D/2 application without scrubbing, just the passage of time. Other markers need a lot more work. I make multiple trips to my “homeland” every year & regularly visit several cemeteries, so I am usually not hurried.

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    A lot of boy scouts and other well-intentioned folks have destroyed headstones and other markers because they assume that any method and or tools is acceptable. “Scrubbing” is not acceptable, nor is bleach or detergent.

    If you haven’t been trained, you shouldn’t do it.

    For many stones and markers, if you try to remove the lichen and other materials that are attached, you may do a lot more harm than good. Better left to the experts.

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Dick, thanks for pointing the way to this very interesting Facebook page. The page’s owner, Andrew Lumish, uses D/2 Biological solution. He mentioned it specifically and in great detail on his FB post dated 14 Nov 2016 — but we all know FB makes it rather difficult (to say the least) to quickly review old posts. The FB search engine does work well for this. Type in “The Good Cemeterian D/2” into the FB search engine window and you are led instantly to the post just referred to.
D/2 is for marble,stone, cement type markers & buildings.
I have been using D/2 with great success (and a whole lot less effort than Mr. Lumish apparently uses) on old family & tribal grave markers in northern Michigan for the last 18 months. A retailer in southern Michigan sells 1 gallon for $35 (shipping vastly increases the cost, I just stop off at his store on my way “up north” and then proceed on my way with a gallon of D/2 in the trunk). Other tools I have used are pretty much the same as Mr. Lumish’s. I buy these other items at places like Dollar General. I use a much greater quantity of D/2 that he apparently does. The more D/2 poured or sprayed on the marker, the faster the obscuring deposits are loosened & come free. When I am in a big hurry, I will scrub the way Mr. Lumish obviously does. I have learned a much simpler way, less labor intensive way, but I have to be patient. A flat marker I simply flood with D/2. Then I walk away & leave the D/2 standing. If the marker is level enough, the D/2 remains in a puddle on the surface, later it will evaporate, blow away or is washed away. Three to six months later some of the markers I treat this way are as good as new, with no scrubbing whatsoever. However, sometimes another application of D/2 is necessary. On the second visit I may scrub. This one-time “apply & leave” method involves no scrubbing or rinsing.
Vertical markers with heavy surface contamination are harder, since the liquid D/2 just runs downhill when it’s applied, just leaving a wet surface. Vertical scrubbing is physically much harder to accomplish. I am basically lazy & don’t like to scrub nearly as much as Mr. Lumish apparently does. Some vertical markers I have repeatedly sprayed with D/2, very lightly scrubbed, repeated x2 or 3 over 3 months & got excellent results with much less scrubbing (although I seem to use much more D/2 than Mr. Lumish does, judging from his videos.
I am concerned about possible freeze-thaw damage to markers from the D/2 itself, although I doubt it’s any worse than the effect of snow & rain during winter months. It rains & snows frequently where I do my work, so I am sure the D/2 is removed naturally over several months. I do not know what D/2 would do to a horizontal stone marker in an area where it never rains or snows. Would D/2 residue in a case like this cause problems?
There was a very interesting painted cast iron veterans marker I came across in northern Michigan. The paint was peeled badly and the surface underneath was rusty. The marker was made of such thick material that after a century of exposure, very little material seemed to have been lost. I experimented on a section with D/2. The failing paint simply flaked off and the D/2 even seemed to remove some of the rust, exposing shiny metal. However, the deeply rusted portions stayed rusty,and the marker obviously needed a paint job. After consultation with the cemetery staff & a local metal shop, we decided the only way to properly restore this kind of marker would be to remove it from its base, truck it to a sandblasting shop, and have it professionally sandblasted and then painted with material that should last for many decades. Since I was just visiting the area for a few days, I could not carry this out. The metal shop did offer their services of sandblasting & painting for no charge, but someone would have to do the mounting & trucking themselves. I conveyed this kind offer to the local SUVCW camp for their consideration since the marker was for a native American Civil War veteran. He did also have a standard VA marker which looks like new after several cleanings with D/2 and scrubbings. The trees over the grave site left a huge amount of material on the marker in the century plus since it was first put up. D/2 rules!

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There is a lot of controversy expressed on the internet about cleaning grave markers, and naturally (being the internet) many conflicting opinions and points of view. I prefer to follow Arlington National Cemetery’s example on using D/2. Your mileage may vary.

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I forgot to mention I use rinse water only when I scrub a marker and then have a lot of loose debris left on the surface, pretty much the same way Mr. Lumish did in the video on his FB page. I do not rinse in a 1st “apply & leave” application.

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Wonderful story! Thank you for sharing. America! Friend helping friend, neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger… It used to be so common in this great nation …let’s hope it’s contagious.

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Kudos to all volunteer cemetery gravestone-cleaners of the world. Couple years ago we were at Riverside Cemetery, Marshalltown, Iowa, visiting some family graves. A volunteer genealogist/gravestone cleaner was out doing his cleaning, talked with us, and promptly worked on our gravestones.. We were grateful and appreciated his work.

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Preserving the detail on a stone obviously benefits future generations – and reduces the chance of the ancestor being lost to history through natural events.

However, before we all rush out to our local graveyard and start cleaning, I strongly recommend firstly getting the permission of the relevant authority.

Whilst I presume the stone itself remains the legal property of whoever paid for it, the land around it is still owned by the Church or cemetery and they will have a view about bringing what might be ‘noxious chemicals’ onto their land. At the very least they will have a duty of care to other users of the land, and will want to ensure that the cleaning does not actually do further damage.

A short initial consultation may well prevent a great deal of subsequent anguish!

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david paul davenport April 22, 2017 at 12:34 pm

on a related matter. Has anyone come up with a way to add information (such as a death date) to an existing marker for a Civil War veteran that does not involved cutting the stone, something like a piece of black plastic on which dates are inscribed and the plastic is affixed to the marker? I want to add death dates to about 30 markers and the local monument company is quoting me a price of $300 per marker! Markers that only have name and military unit are not very informative.

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I applaud his efforts, but the photos shown on his website do not show veterans. Two are women and one is a 14 month old child

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    That is not correct. I began following his facebook page thanks to this blog post last month. I would estimate over 2/3 of his restorations are of people who have served this country. Many others are family members of those veterans. You need to be sure to scroll way down to his daily posts below the pinned post of his TV interview he did last fall. Both the restorations and accompanying historical info have been amazing. He also has a description of the process in the about section at the top of the page. I highly recommend walking along the tombstones with him.

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on a related matter. Has anyone come up with a way to add information (such as a death date) to an existing marker for a Civil War veteran that does not involved cutting the stone, something like a piece of black plastic on which dates are inscribed and the plastic is affixed to the marker? I want to add death dates to about 30 markers and the local monument company is quoting me a price of $300 per marker! Markers that only have name and military unit are not very informative.

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    —-> something like a piece of black plastic on which dates are inscribed and the plastic is affixed to the marker?

    Generally speaking, you should never affix anything to a tombstone. In fact, in some jurisdictions there are laws against that. For more information, see my earlier article at: https://blog.eogn.com/2015/12/31/dont-use-qr-codes-on-tombstones/

    That article talks about affixing QR codes to tombstones but the same thoughts apply to attaching anything or to any form of permanently altering the tombstone.

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