Several years ago I had to go to Memphis, TN for business. In an area close to Graceland, I passed a cemetery and was shocked. The appearance was painful to see and really showed a huge lack of maintenance and care. I remember saying to myself how I was happy our cemeteries in Indiana didn't look like this. In 2012 I became a volunteer for findagrave.com and started traveling to the cemeteries around my home in Owen County. That is when I got a rude awakening to how bad the situation was here. I started studying cemetery preservation and spent a lot of time learning proper techniques. On findagrave.com forum I noticed that most of the people who had been doing this for awhile was very adamant about never touching a headstone unless it belonged to a member of your family. So early in my volunteer work I would photograph and record headstone information and leave the stone the way I found it. That didn't set well with me to see a stone in deteriorating condition due to lack of care and to walk away from it and not make a difference. One day I was in Old Riverside Cemetery photographing and recording information when I came across what appeared to be a small stone. Upon closer examination, I realized that what I was seeing was the back of the base on the bottom of a headstone. I start to scratch the soil away and to my surprise I realize there is a very large headstone there. That was the moment that I remembered everything I had read about never touching a stone if it wasn't in your family. I decided right then and there that all of mankind was family and it wasn't right to continue to walk away from these headstones that was in need of attention. So I start to dig with my fingers keeping in mind that the stone may be very fragile, I stand the stone back up. Wiping the dirt away with my hands I start to make out a name and date, Mary I Anderson - Died July 4, 1863. I secured the stone and I went home to get some water and a nylon brush. I came back and cleaned the stone and the beauty of its carving came to light. Next week I bought some concrete and secured the base. I don't know how long Mary's stone had laid face down but there was at least 2" of soil over the top of it when I found it. That was the beginning of me working on all of Old Riverside Cemetery and being able to record 71 stones that hadn't been recorded before. Many of those were on or under the ground and had to be reset. So the next time your in the cemetery and you see something wrong, from a flower arrangement knocked over to a stone broken into pieces, remember that someone has to take the time to care to make it right.
My name is John Maxwell and I am a Co-Founder of Headstone Healers of Indiana and a Find-A-Grave Volunteer who enjoys working with old headstones. Many tell a story of days past and the people who lived then.