Though we didn’t have as much time to spend on it as might have wished, one of the things we touched on during Field School was memorial restoration and repair. We worked with preservation specialist extraordinaire Dean Ruedrich at the Springfield Friends Meeting House (a Quaker church in High Point), where we came across this sweet little headstone that needed some TLC.
Julia Ann Jester’s marker was made out of soapstone, which is why the engraving on it is still clear, despite the fact that it had been lying face down for who knows how long. The engraving was enhanced by what Dean said was a lime putty, if I remember correctly (though I Googled it hoping to find more information about the tradition but came up empty).
Even though we didn’t know anything about Julia Ann, we all became attached to her gravestone, and Dean used it to demonstrate the magic of stone epoxy and plastic wrap (which he used to secure the pieces since we wouldn’t be returning the next day … who knew that plastic wrap was so versatile?!).
I spent a few hours this evening trying to track down Julia Ann Jester on ancestry.com, but I couldn’t find much. There was a Julia Ann Jester who died in her 60s, but she was buried in a Quaker cemetery in Yadkin County (Jester seems to have an established North Carolina’s Quaker family). There was another who was 10 in 1940, but that’s the latest census to be digitized, so I ran into a dead end. I am also very curious about the tradition of using soapstone and lime putty in grave markers (I’ve added the book Sticks and Stones: Three Centuries of North Carolina Gravemarkers to my to-read list).
I also want to learn more about gravestone and memorial restoration and repair. Being in an old building is in many ways a spiritual experience for me, but I think graveyard work is perhaps even more meaningful. Historic graveyards, in particular, are powerful places, and they are poignant reminders of the fragility of life. Feeling the love of the dead’s survivors, literally etched into the stone, and doing this kind of work preserves what might be the only lasting legacy of a person’s life is a rewarding task, indeed.