If you build an interstate highway (I-87) through the town of Malta, and then spend a billion-and-a-half dollars of state money to attract a computer chip plant there, you create development pressure. [Read more…]
MALTA – In front of a packed meeting room Monday, the Town Board spent most of its time wrestling with two controversial issues. [Read more…]
MALTA – The Town Board on Monday expressed skepticism about the latest plan to develop a parcel that includes a two-century-old former church and one-room schoolhouse.
BY JENNIE GREY
Saturday was beautiful, a splendid day to do outdoor work. But while most in Malta mowed their own lawns and weeded their own gardens, a dedicated group of preservationists learned how to tend history itself by taking care of the 237-year-old Dunning Street Rural Cemetery.
“It’s such an important job for us to maintain these old cemeteries,” said Joe Ferrannini of Grave Stone Matters, a cemetery preservation and monument conservation company.
Ferrannini held a class on tombstone repair and cleaning at the cemetery on Saturday morning, May 19, funded by a GLOBALFOUNDRIES/Town of Malta Foundation grant to the Dunning Street Rural Cemetery Association.
“This is my first class of the season,” he told the gathering. “The cemetery conservation season is limited to the warm months. You don’t want to apply water to a stone that will freeze overnight.”
Ice is only one enemy of history in the graveyard.
“These stones are cracked and broken through wear and tear, through wind and weather, not through vandalism,” said Royal T. Arnold II, sexton of the cemetery and of the Malta Ridge Cemetery as well, and chair of the Malta History Group.
Other reasons include excessive moisture, natural decay, mechanical damage, and poor repairs.
“I’ve walked through the graveyard with the New York State Division of Cemeteries,” said Oswald Blow, treasurer of the Dunning Street Rural Cemetery Association. “We have over 60 stones that are dangerously sited or need repair.”
Blow had marked the most hazardous monuments with orange tape and told the workers to avoid those. Most of them are thick, heavy gravestones leaning at sharp angles. If the stones were to fall, people standing too close might be hurt. He hopes to fund their repair through the Division of Cemeteries.
The volunteers were encouraged to tackle the simpler repairs, such as straightening the leaning tablet stones, the thinner type used in the 1700s and early 1800s.
“Stones as heavy as 300 pounds can be raised and reset,” Ferrannini said. “In olden times, this was all done by simple mechanics, using horses, and block and tackle.”
Fred Wilcox of Galway, vice president of the Foster Hill Cemetery, has learned how to raise stones lying flat on the ground. He told of a set of 1790 graves in his cemetery, three siblings in their 20s who had died within three months of each other. Their father was a general, probably away fighting, he said.
“I wonder if they died of some epidemic,” he said. “It’s interesting.”
Ferrannini’s method for raising supine monuments is a two-person job. “Stones can be suctioned to the ground,” he said. “It’s hard to break. Dig gently around the edges, then roll the stone from one side to the other, and raise it from the side. If you just stand it straight up, you risk breakage from the top.”
The metal pins holding the markers on their bases often need replacement.
“These older pins rust,” Arnold said. “Rust expands and stretches when wet. So the holes in which the pins are set become enlarged, and the gravestone slides off and falls.”
Cleaning monuments is also a careful task, Ferrannini told the volunteers. Sandblasting, power washing, and bleach are absolutely the wrong methods.
Kim Scott, a member of Malta’s Historic Preservation Review Commission, grew up in Valhalla, N.Y., a place famed for its large graveyards, Kensico Cemetery and neighboring Gate of Heaven.
“I grew up around cemeteries,” Scott said. “My friends and I were always respectful, biking through them or playing in them.”
Scott has degrees in cultural anthropology and mortuary science, so her interest in historic graveyards fits. She chose the large marble headstone of the interestingly named Gleissetta Greaf to clean. Under the scrub brush, the inscription of “Born in Germany, April 22, 1803 to February 14, 1880,” came clear.
Next to Gleissetta lay the grave of baby Tillie Vetter, 1879-1880. When the grass over her crooked stone was tugged away, the message “Gone but not forgotten” peeked out.
“We try to save everything, but we can’t always,” Ferrannini said. “We do everything we can, though, for the sake of the history.”