Saturday, December 13, 2008

Acid Rain and Cemeteries

Acid rain has become personal! Living in Southern California we never see the effects of acid rain, probably because it doesn’t rain much. On a trip to New York last year I went to visit the graves of my great grandparents at the Franch/German portion of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo. Many of the stones were so pocked that they were difficult to read. I asked a caretaker why some were so unreadable and others right nearby were fine. I expected her to tell me it was the materials of the marker, but she simple said two words: “acid rain.”

Preservation of cemeteries is most important because something our ancestors thought of as a forever memorial is actually going away. Acid rain, along with general weathering, vandalism, and development is causing the disappearance of valuable history. Each year letters and numbers fade away. Unless we photograph and transcribe existing tombstones there will be a day that we won’t be able to.

There are three major types of stones used to make markers. Slate was used from about 1650 to 1900. In the early days of America, around Boston, there was a supply of very high quality of slate. They are mostly unaffected by acid rain. Proof of that is in the oldest cemeteries most stones are made of slate and are still readable. Sandstone was used from 1650 to 1890. It was quarried in Connecticut and was transported by rail to many cities in the US. It deteriorates quickly, cracks and returns to sand. Another stone is Marble or Limestone, used from 1780-1930. It was desired because of its white pure color. They are made from calcium carbonate and weather badly. The surface becomes pitted and stained. This is what my great grandparents stone (pictured) is made from. It is adversely affected by acid rain. Finally: Granite. Granite has been used since 1860 until today. It is the most durable, often called the “Rock of Ages.” Many cemeteries will only allow granite to be used.

To my knowledge there are no other pictures of the Kerkers stones. Of course there may be some pictures (that I would love to have!) hidden in some ones closet or attic or basement, but not a one on line or in any library. By the time I get back to New York, the writing on the stones may be invisible. I guess my work of “publishing” my own collection of family gravestones is waiting for me. Does this work never end?! I hope not.

1 comment:

Janice Tracy said...

Thank you for this wonderful and informative article about how acid rain affects these old, old gravestones. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

A Member of The Association of Graveyard Rabbits