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Cemetery Caution Sign Available to Historic Cemeteries

August 21, 2013

June 2012: A 4-year-old North Carolina girl playing in a cemetery is crushed to death when a 1,200-pound cross topples from a gravestone onto her.

July 2012: A 4-year-old Utah boy posing for photos with family and friends at a historic cemetery is killed when a 200-pound tombstone topples onto him.

Cemetery Caution Sign

Posting this caution sign could help make visitors to historic cemeteries more aware of the potential hazards of monuments.

In response to these tragedies of 2012, the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries (OCHC) is offering a free caution sign about the hazards of cemetery monuments to historic cemeteries in Oregon listed with the OCHC. If posted at the entrance to a historic cemetery, the sign should at least make visitors aware of potential hazards.

Time and the forces of nature inexorably deteriorate the bonding material holding sections of historic gravestones together, leaving them mere stacks of loose stones, poised to be toppled by seemingly little force. An earthquake, a windstorm, an animal, or a child at play can upset this delicate balance, and turn a monument that has stood for decades into a dead-fall. In the aftermath of tragic, heart-wrenching headlines that flash across the country, anguished if-only thoughts plague cemetery authorities, and, in an increasingly litigious society, wrongful death suits seek to fix blame.

Walk through an historic cemetery. Examine old upright monuments. Look especially at the joints between the blocks of stone that make up the memorial. Many will be loose, and even those that appear solid may separate under very little pressure. Notice monuments that are no longer vertical, but lean a bit due to uneven settling or undermining by tunneling animals. These are potential killers. Children at play are oblivious to danger. Unfortunately, many parents are unaware of the unstable nature of old monuments and their significant weight.

Most custodians of historic cemeteries lack funding, personnel and equipment needed to straighten and restore hazardous monuments. Risk is still possible, even in the most diligent, well-funded organizations. The OCHC offers position papers and bulletins on a variety of topics related to historic preservation of historic cemeteries. Relevant workshops, including one on gravestone restoration, instruct cemetery personnel and volunteers in a variety of procedures. A grant program to fund specific cemetery projects distributes dollars to help with needed projects.

The OCHC is offering one free sign per historic cemetery in Oregon listed with the OCHC. To get your sign, contact Kuri Gill at kuri.gill@state.or.us or (503)-986-0685.

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