Dublin Works To Save Historic Gravestones

Jun 12, 2015

A walk through an old cemetery offers a look into the past. Gravestones from past eras display prominent names and honor veterans from wars fought long ago.  But over time, those names fade – literally –& from the stones. WOSU's Sam Hendren reports on one Central Ohio city's effort to bring new life to those old grave markers.

In Dublin, the main cemetery sits in a prominent spot in the heart of town. Graves date back to the early 1800s. Many of the markers are showing their age – they’re gray and covered with moss or lichen. Some sit broken in half.

The restored gravestone of John Tiberius Tuller along side a picture of Tuller.
Credit Sam Hendren - WOSU News / James Richards

Some very old stones however are brilliantly white. They’re the ones that have been cleaned and restored. One of those stones marks the final resting place of John Tiberius Tuller, the great uncle of 85-year-old Dublin resident James Richards.

“It says on there, ‘John T. Tuller.  Company E, 133rd Ohio Infantry.’ He came back from the Civil War without any injuries or anything,” Richards says.

Tuller’s gravestone gleams in the sunshine. The lettering is crisp. It’s one of more than a hundred stones that have been cleaned and restored over the past 10 years. Tuller’s stone might be simple, but others are tall with a lot of engraving. It’s that engraving that provides a window to the city’s past.

“Dublin’s always looking forward but there’s a time and a place to look backwards too,” says Fred Hahn.

Fred Hahn, director of Dublin's Department of Parks and Open Space, stands next to a restored gravestone from 1860.
Credit Sam Hendren / WOSU News

Fred Hahn directs the city’s parks and open space department. He approached city council 10 years ago asking for money to repair worn, fading and broken markers. To his surprise the council allocated $10,000 and has done so every year since. That lets Hahn fix about a dozen stones a year. He says the markers tell stories.

“Some of the inscriptions on some of these headstones really give a darn good indication of the values of a particular time in Dublin’s history. There’s also historical information available by just reading some of these headstones,” Hahn says.

Often weathered and worn stones are illegible before they’re taken away for restoration.

The city contracts with Columbus Art Memorial in Franklinton. Mel Lee manages its shop.

“Where the letters were crisp when they were first cut in and the lines were sharp, it’s all softened now. And what we do is take that surface down and recut those letters in. And by the time we’re done resurfacing and cutting those letters back in it’s as close to being new as it possibly could be,” Lee says.

One of the pieces being restored is an elegant marker that sits in several large pieces.

“This one appears to say Angelina…I can’t tell right now without doing a rubbing if there’s an initial after it but wife of, looks like the last name is Domity. But that might not be the case, I haven’t taken a rubbing of this. I can see where see died, August 4th, 1876. When we’re done with this I won’t have to squint and feel it.  You’ll be able to read it again,” Lee says.

The gravestone of Little Willie, an infant who passed away in 1864 after living just seven months and 26 days has also been restored by the city of Dublin.
Credit Sam Hendren / WOSU News

In the 1800’s stone cutters did not have the technology to use granite markers which last longer. So they used softer limestone, sandstone and marble. But once they’re restored the old stones look brand new.

“It took this stone over a hundred years to need to be restored, it’s been restored and maybe it will last another hundred years,” says Fred Hahn.

Back at the cemetery, Fred Hahn points out the diversity of epitaphs on some of the larger gravestones.

“Some of them are beautiful, they’re very touching; some of them are pretty morose actually.  But it was a reflection of the times – life was difficult,” Hahn says.

“Here’s a nice one, here we go:

‘The once loved form now cold and dead,

Each mournful thought employs.

And nature weeps her comforts fled

And withered all her joys.

But it is a beautiful headstone,” says Hahn.

Hahn says many stones selected for restoration honor veterans. He says suggestions also come from the Dublin Historical Society.

Columbus Art Memorial’s Mel Lee says a few other central Ohio communities have asked about restoration work. But Dublin appears to be the only community that actively pays for gravestone restoration.

It’s that restoration that will keep the memory of James Richards’ great uncle John Tiberius Tuller alive for another century.

“It’s good that you can come to a cemetery and see and read some of the names on there.  So it’s a blessing that we have a cemetery like this,” says Richards.