Saturday, September 5, 2015

Cemetery Clean UP - Day 1

Little did the superintendent of St Patrick's Cemetery realize what future generations would think of his idea.  In order to modernize the cemetery he quite literally snapped hundreds of slate and marble markers and laid them flat.  Over time they were covered by clippings and have sunk into the ground. It wouldn't be until 1995 that a team of volunteers resurrected (excuse the pun) the stones so their inscriptions could be recorded for future generations.  That has had its good points and bad.  While the data has given local historians and genealogists a wealth of information never known before; it has exposed them to the elements and modern technology (giant lawn mowers being driven over them).

For the past 20 years we've given tours of the cemetery.  It seems there's great interest in hearing the stories of the first generation Irish pioneers and deciphering the iconography on the stones.  Why do many of the oldest stones use Yankee symbols?  Why does the Cusack stone have pagan-like designs?  Why do some of the stones have shamrocks and not others?   Are any written in Irish? Folks ask all kinds of questions.  Some we know; some we're still finding out.

One drawback of doing all this is that each year we have to go to cemetery weeks before the tour and
remove the clippings and sod from the previous year.  Many stones are almost invisible to the naked eye because of a year's growth of crabgrass.  This year was THE banner year for crabgrass!

The treasure of St Pat's are our shamrock stones, all 21.  Today's work was to clean and record all 21 stones.  It's imperative that this be done.  Damage to the stones increases every year.  They sink deeper and deeper and that makes mowing more difficult and hazardous to the stone.  So this year we recorded the location of each stone, cleaned each using soft brushes and plastic utensils, and photographed each as best we could.  Yard 1 is full sun all day making photography difficult (and hot).  Each stone was photographed dry and then with a mist of water to highlight lettering.  When I got home I found the 200 photos we took rather poor so waited until late afternoon and returned to photograph in the shade.

Today's volunteers were Brenda and Donagh McKean, my wife and daughter.  No, I did not force them to volunteer (too much).  Donagh even came back for trip #2.  Of course Karen and Walter Hickey were there so early they already finished a stone before anyone else got there.  Though Walter is our senior member, he worked nonstop.  A new volunteer who arrived was Caitlin, a blog reader, who heard the call.  I hope we have not scared her off, but seriously thank her for the help.  Every stone counts.

Next week's (Saturday, Sept 12) cleaning will be shorter and focus on some historic personages. We'll have 10-15 stones to do.  Saturday, September 29 will be alumni day where we ask those who attended St. Pat's, Notre Dame Academy, Sacred Heart, or Immaculate to come and even clean one stone of a Sister who worked in Lowell and is buried at St. Pat's. 

One last thought, as we finished up Walt and I thought that the cleaning and photographing was especially important this year.  This may be the last time we're able to take on such a task, which means we need to think about doing future tours.  (Of course we say that each year.)

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