Watch Your Step (and Hands) in Historic Cemeteries
By Kuri Gill
People tend to be aware of where they are stepping when walking in historic cemeteries either out of respect for the deceased or to keep balance on rough ground. Many people, however, tend to overlook caution in how they touch cemetery features.
Over the last few months, several stories about injuries caused by unstable markers have made national news. Sadly, one of the most notable stories was the death of a four-year-old child who was killed by a toppled marker just following a family photograph.
In response to these stories, the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries (OCHC) is releasing a new position paper regarding unstable markers and other cemetery features. The purpose of this position paper is twofold. The first is to remind cemetery visitors to use caution. The second is to offer suggestions to family members, cemetery caretakers and volunteers on how to address this problem.
Remember, stone is heavy! Marble markers are about 160 pounds per cubic foot. Granite markers are about 200 pounds per cubic foot. A typical 1880s, marble, tablet marker might weigh as much as two hundred pounds. A large, granite, block monument could weigh half a ton.
Many people don’t realize that in most cases it is the responsibility of family members to maintain plots and markers. In the case of historic cemeteries, family members may be unaware or unavailable to take care of markers. Cemeteries are then forced to take over. The position paper offers some steps to make cemeteries safer, including posting warnings, contacting family members, and repairing markers.
The OCHC has released several position papers and Heritage Bulletins for the care and preservation of Oregon’s historic cemeteries. The OCHC also offers annual marker repair trainings and grants for training and repair.
Kuri Gill is the Historic Cemeteries Coordinator for Oregon Heritage.