This Memorial Day weekend the local cemeteries will undoubtedly be filled with people decorating the graves of departed loved ones. If you’re among them, take a moment to look around at nearby headstones. You may notice many are discolored, cracked — or worse.
Just such an observation led Michael and Nicole Kobrowski and J. and Jodi Becker to establish Indiana Cemetery Works, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of Indiana’s historical cemeteries.
You’re probably already familiar with Michael and Nicole. They’ve popped up in this column several times. In addition to their day jobs, Nicole is an author, and the couple together run, Inc., and Historic Indiana Ghost Walks and Tours.
They’re also actively involved in preserving local history. That’s what prompted them to become interested in cleaning up Westfield’s Anti-Slavery Friends Cemetery.
Wanting to go about the restoration work the correct way (there are definitely wrong ways — I’ll get to that shortly,) Michael and Nicole attended workshops on cleaning and resetting headstones given by professionals Stewart and Mark Davis.
They received further instruction through courses sponsored by the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and taught by another professional in the field, John “Walt” Walters of Graveyard Groomers.
Since then, they’ve not only continued to work at the Anti-Slavery Friends Cemetery, they’ve added Noblesville’s Riverside Cemetery.
Recently, they held a workshop at the Neff Cemetery (also known as the White-Kelley or Randolph County Infirmary Cemetery) in Randolph County. This small family cemetery is located near the old Randolph County Infirmary, just outside Winchester.
I attended that workshop and I learned a LOT about the dos and don’ts of cemetery preservation. It’s a more complicated subject than you might think, although the primary rule is the same one you’ll find in any kind of preservation work — don’t do anything you can’t undo.
Among the “don’ts” of cemetery preservation:
DON’T use bleach, wire brushes or harsh, abrasive substances to clean headstones, and power washing is MAJOR no-no. (It can create tiny cracks which will eventually destroy the stone.)
Headstones are more delicate than most people realize. Even something that seems harmless, like making grave rubbings, can damage stones. (Acid in the paper used to make the rubbings contributes to the stones’ eventual deterioration.)

Also, you can’t just waltz in and start cleaning up a cemetery. It’s illegal to conduct a cemetery cleanup without first getting permission from the property owner.
And now for some of the “dos” of cemetery restoration:
DO take sunscreen, insect repellant, water — basically anything you might want or need for a day outdoors.
Along with those items, it’s a good idea to pack a little patience and a lot of elbow grease. The small stone I worked on at the Neff Cemetery looked much better when we left, but it was so badly stained, my best efforts couldn’t get it completely clean in the time allowed.
That was just my experience, though. A couple of people next to me worked wonders with a much larger stone that was in a little better condition. When they began, the inscription was barely visible. By the time they finished, you could read every word AND make out a lovely decorative feature.
If you, or your organization, are interested in cemetery preservation, the biggest DO of all would be to attend one of the Indiana Cemetery Works workshops before you even think about getting your hands dirty. (So to speak — you’ll probably want to wear gloves.)
These workshops are held irregularly, so your best bet would be check the Indiana Cemetery Works Facebook page, for current information.

Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Friday in The Times. Contact her at