HALLOWELL — Lori Beaucage, of Belgrade, walked around the Hallowell Cemetery while her car was being repaired at a nearby auto body shop earlier this month and was dismayed by damage to some tombstones.

Elaine Demers, right, and her daughter, Katie Hebert-Ritchey clean up the plants around a headstone Thursday for their friend, Betty Bachelder, at Hallowell Cemetery. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“I think it’s sad,” Beaucage said of the estimated 10 broken stones she saw, noting that one monument was broken in three places and stacked up on the ground. “It’s like they’re just letting it go.”

Cemetery experts said lack of upkeep is a statewide issue, because of a lack of training for repairs and funding. Central Maine cemetery stewards told the Kennebec Journal this month that a backlog of broken tombstones — caused by vandalism or gradual damage from the weather — and tree work is par for the course, but work is being tackled little by little.

Cheryl Patten, the Maine Old Cemetery Association Conservation Committee chairwoman, said many cemeteries suffer from a lack of upkeep, which comes down to a lack of funding. She said towns with more wealth usually have better-maintained cemeteries. Cemeteries in Franklin and Somerset counties — the region with which Patten is more familiar — aren’t as fortunate.

“From what I’m reading, (towns in southern Maine) have more money to care for their cemeteries,” Patten said. “A lot of (other) towns want to do a good job, but they don’t have the money.”

She said damage usually is caused over time by weather, rather than vandalism. Patten said she receives newspaper clippings about instances of vandalism in cemeteries, but she has gotten fewer and fewer recently.

“I think it’s just a lack of care,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I started the Conservation Committee.”

Further complicating the upkeep of gravestones is a lack of trained professionals to do the work.

Patten said her group conducts a workshop on how to clean, reset, epoxy and repair stones. She said the workshops are usually well-attended and people come from as far away as Iowa to take part.

Tony Masciadri stands in his shop Thursday in Hallowell. Masciadri & Sons has been carving headstones for more than a century. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Tony Masciadri, owner of Hallowell-based Masciadri Monuments, is a member of Hallowell’s board of cemetery trustees and a member of nonprofit Hallowell Centennial Burial Ground Association Inc. He said repairs fall to the families of the buried or onto the association, which runs independently of the city.

“There are more broken monuments (than we want) up there,” Masciadri said. “Most of the broken ones have been broken for the last couple of years, and they’re marble.”

Hallowell Public Works Director Chris Buck said he and his crew maintain the grounds at the cemetery, handle burials and do some minor resetting of toppled stones. He said the bigger jobs — such as cleaning the stones and replacing them — are done by Masciadri, who said his work is funded by the burial ground association.

Masciadri said some of the monuments damaged in Hallowell are made of marble, which he said is a problematic material. He said the marble headstones are set with iron pins that get wet and swell, pushing the corners of the monument out and eventually breaking the stone.

“Every spring cemeteries deal with it,” Masciadri said. “Water gets under the monument (and) when that freezes, the wind will blow it right off the base.”

He said the options are to glue the pieces of marble back together or replace the monument. Marble monuments usually are worn away, Masciadri said, so a rubbing would be made of the engravings and transferred onto a new stone. Masciadri said he favors granite because it is stronger, but it comes with a cost. A replacement of a 2- or 3-foot-tall marble marker costs $600, by Masciadri’s estimate, while a granite one costs about $1,200.

Masciadri said the association commissions work using the interest from a private fund separate from the city’s purview. He said the association is doing the work in chunks, but it might never catch up to work necessary on an estimated 8,800 graves in the city’s only cemetery.

“As long as there are (vandals) and as long as the weather takes out the marble, (we won’t be able to catch up to the damage),” Masciadri said. “We probably wouldn’t be able to do it all at once, but we have enough interest … to do a little each year.”

He plans to pressure-wash the cemetery’s Civil War Monument this year, which Masciadri said he last did 42 years ago.

Leaning and fallen grave stones offer evidence of a maintenance backlog Thursday in Maple Cemetery in Winthrop. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

In Winthrop, a cemetery fund and the municipal budget make up funding for upkeep of the city’s cemetery. Winthrop Cemetery Sexton Steve Kennedy said recent “misfortunes” with money have left the cemeteries underfunded — but was confident money was there for the overhaul of the town’s five cemeteries.

He said his crew fixes the stones and maintains the cemeteries using about $9,000 in interest each year from a cemetery fund totaling about $400,000. Kennedy does anticipate presenting a “pretty aggressive” spending plan to officials during this year’s budget process to get the ball rolling on an overhaul of the cemeteries, which would include reconstruction of some access roads.

“It’s Winthrop’s history,” he said. “I would be worried that they aren’t taking care of their history.

“These people lived and they deserve their last resting place to be preserved,” Kennedy added. “There’s a lot of history involved, and I take pride in it.”

Winthrop Town Manager Jeffrey Kobrock said he has spoken in general terms with the sexton about an increase. He said cemetery work is “really important” but “it’s sometimes easily overlooked.”

“Cemeteries are a very unique thing,” Kobrock said. “They take a great deal of maintenance, and it’s the kind of maintenance that people are not too terribly aware of.

“When your street has a lot of potholes, you are very aware of that,” he added. “When we do a lot of cemetery maintenance, we just don’t get complaints.”

Kobrock, a former Gardiner city manager, said cemeteries are maintained through “a diverse array of partnerships.” In Winthrop, he said, most of the maintenance comes through the municipality; while in Gardiner, some cemeteries are public and some are private. When asked about where the cemetery falls in budget priorities, Kobrock said, in his two months as Winthrop town manager, he has not heard citizens complain about the condition of the cemeteries.

Winthrop allocated $43,062 to the cemetery in fiscal year 2018 and $44,559 in fiscal year 2019, and $49,180 is included in the draft budget for fiscal year 2020, according to Kobrock.

Winthrop Fire Chief Dan Brooks said his department is going to spend $300 to repair the gravestone of the department’s second chief, Charles Wing, and straighten out stones of his family members in nearby lots in Maple Cemetery. Brooks said he discovered the stone was split in two when he was marking the graves of firefighters in the town’s cemeteries.

“I thought … at least … that we ought to do something for it,” he said. “He was pretty instrumental in starting the department in 1883.”

Brooks said seeing damage in Maple Cemetery made him realize the scope of repairs necessary. He was resistant to having the city foot the bill for gravestone repairs for people with no remaining family to take care of the stone, but now he supports spending a little extra to keep cemeteries in good condition.

A crew mows grass Thursday at the Maine Avenue Cemetery in Farmingdale. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“I’ve changed my stance on it and understand that someone has to take care of these really old gravestones,” Brooks said said. “It’s not something you can do overnight, but I would support the town starting to do with repairs.”

Gardiner Public Works Director Tony Laplante said this year’s weather has done a number on tombstones, giving all cemetery stewards work to do this summer. He said the city is responsible for maintenance at Libby Hill and Plaisted cemeteries, while others are run by associations or other private entities. He said the city took out a bond to refurbish gravestones a few years ago, but now cemetery money is “hard to come by.”

“I’m sure everybody is in the same boat this year,” Laplante said. “The weather has been horrible, so everybody is behind (on cemetery work).”

Gardiner City Manager Christine Landes said the cemeteries are “a priority” for the city and added that the city supports privately-operated Mt. Hope Cemetery and Oak Grove Cemetery with budget line items of $5,000 and $3,000 respectively.

Farmingdale’s Cemetery Administrator JoAnn Choate said the town made it a priority to fix headstones about a year and a half ago and is only aware of two broken headstones in the town’s three cemeteries. She said the biggest problems facing Farmingdale’s burial grounds are old trees requiring work and monument cleaning.

“There’s always going to be something,” she said. “We’re going to do (work in) a section per cemetery and phase that (out) over a period of time, then we can maintain it.”

 

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