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Published: Wednesday, 10/5/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Volunteers restoring old cemetery

Headstones straightened, fixed, replaced

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dawn Pirolli, left, and Nancy Dusa clean the monument of Richard Peters and his daughters Mary and Susan in Wing Cemetery. Richard Peters founded Petersburg, Dawn Pirolli, left, and Nancy Dusa clean the monument of Richard Peters and his daughters Mary and Susan in Wing Cemetery. Richard Peters founded Petersburg,
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PETERSBURG -- Wing Cemetery is a busy place at times, even though nobody has been buried there since 1920.

That's because a handful of Petersburg residents have been working on a volunteer restoration project to straighten, replace, and repair the crooked, fallen, and damaged headstones, most of which date to the 19th century.

"There are quite a few graves of Civil War veterans, and one grave of a veteran of the War of 1812," explained Dawn Pirolli, the lifelong Petersburg citizen who organized the restoration effort. "Some of the stones had so much lichen on them that you couldn't read them."

Mrs. Pirolli became interested in the cemetery because her great great grandfather, Christian Gradolph, is buried there and his grave was damaged. He came to the United States in the mid-1800s from Germany. The restoration group collected $1,000 for repairs, but could fix only two graves with that amount, so it began depending on volunteer labor.

The one-acre cemetery, on the north side of Center Street, a couple of blocks east of the center of town, had been in disrepair for many years.

It's also called the Old Petersburg Cemetery. The city, which owns the property, mows the grass and clears felled trees, but lacked funds for a proper restoration.

A 1968 survey done by an Indiana chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution determined that the first person buried there was 1-year-old Suzan Peters, who was interred in 1829. The last person to be buried there was John Peters, who died in 1920 at the age of 96. Both were children of Richard Peters, for whom the city is named. Only three burials were performed after 1900, according to the survey.

Jim Dusa cleans a grave marker at Wing Cemetery in Petersburg, Mich. Jim Dusa cleans a grave marker at Wing Cemetery in Petersburg, Mich.
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The restoration work began two years ago; so far 82 graves have been fixed, according to Jim Dusa, another lifelong Petersburg resident, who has provided the muscle and know-how to get the job done.

Mr. Dusa, who is retired, used to move buildings and heavy equipment for a living. He is also knowledgeable in foundation work, expertise that he put to good use in shoring up bases beneath the heavy stones.

"Quite honestly, I've always been interested in this sort of thing, the Civil War era and all," Mr. Dusa explained.

He said the cemetery experienced some vandalism decades ago, but most of the damage to the heavily weathered stones was done by age. The 19th century method of burial was a big contributor as well: the simple wood coffins rotted away, undermining the heavy stones above them.

To reset a stone, he put stone and gravel beneath the original foundation. Some of the stones had fallen over several decades ago. He also used metal clips and caulk to repair stones that had broken in two.

Also putting in a lot of labor is Nancy Dusa, his wife, who has used a steel-bristle brush to clean the stones of moss and other growths that accumulated over the years.

She said she pays close attention to the inscriptions as she cleans the stones. One that particularly caught her eye was on the grave of a young child who died in 1860. It reads:

Gravestones mark the resting places of Charles Boardman, left, and his father, Capt. George Boardman. They died one month apart during the Civil War. Gravestones mark the resting places of Charles Boardman, left, and his father, Capt. George Boardman. They died one month apart during the Civil War.
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"Sleep sweetly, little one

Thou went so long a dying

Thy anguish now is oer

And on this earthly shore

Thou'st left us sadly sighing"

Next to the child's grave is the grave of his mother, who died a month later.

"You realize how hard life was back then," Mrs. Dusa said. "Most of the women here were in their 20s or 30s when they died. They didn't live long."



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