The following article is little dated, and the actual publication date is not known -- but, I think it's worth presenting here.

It's been edited somewhat by Kermit Kittleson, in May 2007.


Restoring gravestones in Orchard

JIM KRAMER of rural Orchard has restored hundreds of tombstones in two Mitchell County cemeteries. Jim showed the author a photo of one of the stones in the Orchard Cemetery which Kramer has restored. [The photo was included in the original newspaper article, but is lost.] The stone had sunk nearly two feet into the ground, up to where the crack shows, before Kramer raised it back up.

Tombstones in the Orchard and Stillwater Cemeteries in Mitchell County have seen refurbishing in recent years, courtesy of Jim Kramer of Orchard.

Kramer has constructed concrete bases for approximately 250 stones over the last four years in Orchard Cemetery and Stillwater Cemetery. The bases are then laid on the grave, and the stones are set on top. The cement is laid below the ground line, so the base doesn't corrode.

"Over the years, some of these stones have sunk a foot or more into the ground," Kramer said. "There is writing that is totally underground."

The old stones wouldn't have pads underneath them. When the wooden coffins underneath would disintegrate, the stones would begin to sink. Dirt would be laid to fill the hole, and the stones would sink further.

Kramer has been tending the Orchard Cemetery for nearly eight years. About four years ago he decided to try and do something about the increasingly sunken stones. His first year he poured pads for about 60 stones.

"Some of those stones were pretty heavy," Kramer laughed. "I had to wait until my son came home for the weekend." Kramer said one of the stones was a foot thick, and weighed about 500 lbs.

Later Kramer attended a convention for cemetery workers, and learned some tips on improving the restoration process.

Then last year the Stillwater Cemetery, located on the Mitchell-Floyd county line, received a contribution and asked Kramer to do some work. First he mapped the cemetery out, then measured the stones to see how big the pads would have to be.

Reputedly, the only map ever made of the Stillwater Cemetery was on a cedar shingle. The cemetery is rarely used anymore, with the last burial about four years ago. Quite a few area Civil War veterans are buried within its boundaries.

"There was some vandalism years ago at Stillwater, and some of the stones were broken," Kramer said. "Some of the stones were never recovered."

One elderly woman told Kramer her baby brother was buried near a tree in the corner of the cemetery, but no stone was ever made. Kramer tested the ground to discover the grave, then made a marker for it.

Some of the stones have sunk a foot or more into the ground. Often, lines of writing have been covered for years. Kramer said one of the most rewarding things about the job is discovering those missing lines. Often it takes vigorous polishing with a steel brush to make the words readable.

"There's so much history out there, it's very interesting."

According to Kramer the Orchard Cemetery was moved around the turn of the century. The original location was a mile or so south of the current location, and some graves are still located at the old site.

Some of the missing stones at Stillwater were recovered and simply laid on top of the graves. Over time they were covered with dirt and forgotten. In one spot Kramer found seven footstones buried underground, all from one family plot.

Another part of Kramer's work is piecing back together stones which have been broken. He uses a special glue from a company on the east coast. One gallon of the glue costs $75.

Some stones are broken in two or three places. Clean breaks are easy to repair, but jagged edges make for tough work.

"You try not to cover up any lettering unless you absolutely have to," Kramer said. "But with some of these old stones, you can't count on neatness."

It takes at least an hour to prepare just one base. Kramer said he has finished most of the graves in the two cemeteries. Next year he plans to start doing some work at the Howardville Cemetery in Floyd County.

"It can be tedious, especially when you're doing the final gluing," Kramer said. "But I can't believe the history you discover.

"But you know you're getting old," he continued with a laugh, "When you go by these graves and recognize more and more people."