Sullivan history teacher Vern Campbell washes the headstone of Hannah Newman with a biodegradable cleaning solution. “I can’t believe how much I’ve learned and how little I knew,” said Campbell, who is a cemetery trustee in Sullivan. “I would’ve done so much damage” trying to clean the stones, he added. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY KATE COUGH

Volunteers learn headstone maintenance at Woodbine Cemetery workshop

ELLSWORTH — The two headstones are identical, save for the inscriptions: Hannah Newman (1830-1875) and her husband, veteran Andrew Newman (1828-1905). But there is a striking difference: Hannah’s stone is nearly black, the letters lost to moss and grime, while her husband’s stone is a sparkling white.

“This poor woman’s stone has been neglected,” said Sullivan history teacher Vern Campbell, as he gently doused the marble with D/2 biological solution.

While Maine State law requires that veterans’ headstones be maintained and repaired, the gravesites of their family members may not receive the same attention, Campbell said.

Campbell was one of a gathering of volunteers who participated in a four-day workshop hosted by the Maine Old Cemetery Association (MOCA) at Woodbine Cemetery this weekend.

Ellsworth resident and City Council Chairman Marc Blanchette, who has been caring for veterans’ headstones at Woodbine for several years, helped organize the event.

Joe Ferrannini, owner of Grave Stone Matters, helped volunteers as they dug out, lifted and reset a multi-piece monument on a muggy Monday morning at Woodbine Cemetery. Ferrannini travels around the country teaching workshops on headstone cleaning and repair. He will spend between six and eight weeks in Maine this year, he said, working 12-hour days with volunteers at cemeteries around the state.

Participants learned to reset and repair falling stones, straighten leaning ones and how to properly clean stones covered with decades of dirt.

What does cleaning entail? No pressure washing and no bleach, said Joe Ferrannini, owner of Grave Stone Matters, who had been hired by MOCA to lead the weekend stone-tenders.

“You could literally blow a hole through the stone” with the strength of a pressure washer, said Ferrannini, who travels to cemeteries around the country to teach cleaning and repair.

The New York resident knows it’s tempting to look for a quick fix that will make a stone shine. But marble, particularly century-old marble, is soft and easily eroded, said Ferrannini. Even granite can sustain damage from well-intentioned cleaning efforts.

The process of marble erosion is known colloquially as “sugaring,” referring to the granular feeling of the stone as it disintegrates. Marble that has not eroded feels smooth to the touch.

“It’s much more sensitive work,” said Ferrannini, “than laying up a concrete wall or a building. It needs to be preserved or conserved to a certain level.”

Cheryl Willis Patten, the former president of MOCA, pointed to the preservation of the historical record as one of the primary reasons for the work the organization does.

“There are some people who never owned land and they’re not in the registry of deeds,” Patten said. “There are some who had nothing to leave and they’re not in the registry of probate. But they might have a marker in a cemetery.”

Penobscot resident John Albrecht agreed.

“Every one of these stones memorializes someone and provides data points for their lives,” he said. “It’s part of how you can learn what these people valued.”

Patten said she hopes residents will share what they’ve learned with others who are interested in helping with headstone conservation.

MOCA holds several workshops around the state each year. The group also offers information on headstone symbolism and publishes its “Stones with Stories” blog, a collection of tales of noteworthy stones and those who lay beneath them.

For information on how to care for a headstone in your area, visit

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Digital Media Strategist
Kate is the paper's Digital Media Strategist, responsible for all things social, and the occasional story too! She's a former reporter for the paper and can be reached at: [email protected]
Kate Cough

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