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Volunteers restore dignity to Civil War headstones

Commander Chris Murphy and Martin Petzold of American Legion Post 49 lift a Civil War gravestone that has sunk into the ground so it can be cleaned then reset in a section of Park Cemetery dedicated to local soldiers of that era. The tool was designed by Northfield blacksmith David Court. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
September 22, 2010
TILTON — A team of nearly 20 workers assembled at Park Cemetery Saturday to bring honor and dignity back to the headstones of Civil War veterans buried in a quiet section of the property jointly owned by Tilton and Northfield.

Harold Harbour of the American Legion headed up the project and arranged for assistance from not just his fellow veterans at the Whiteman-Davis American Legion Post 49 but from a work crew of inmates from Belknap County Corrections department who are taking part in their Community Service Program.

"My grandson used to take care of the cemetery and he pointed out a couple of years ago that the WWI and WWII gravestones were in bad shape so we came in and took care of them. Now we want to get these dressed up for everybody to see," said Harbour.

Legion members have made it a mission to preserve the memories of fellow veterans buried in the cemetery. Last year, in the pouring rain, they started on the Civil War stones but were unable to clean more than 35 of the markers that day, all sunken a foot and a half or more into the ground.

With nearly 80 stones left to raise, straighten and clean the crew got busy early last Saturday. Power washers donated by the Town of Northfield and the help of a nifty tool developed by blacksmith David Court, also of Northfield, helped make the work a lot easier.

"We needed something to help pull the stones up and when Gordon heard that he came up with this device he made. Two men can pull the stone up and not even disturb anything else when they do," said Harbour.

Legion Commander Chris Murphy and Martin Petzold demonstrated by clamping the tool onto a hundred-year-old marble slab and lifting it easily out of the ground. From there the grayed, weather beaten stones were laid on their side, awaiting a power wash to bring back their original white surface.

After each piece was cleaned, crews gather to shovel pea stone to raise the hole the stone rested in and, with a string run along each row, lowered them one by one back to a uniform height. Levels were used to straighten each marker and then soil was shoveled around to hold them securely in place.

Members of the BCC work force provided the necessary manpower to keep the project moving rapidly along. The men said it was an "honor and a privilege" to be part of restoring the Civil War markers to their original glory.

President of Park Cemetery Roland Huckins joined the crew as well. Huckins said the help was appreciated, as perpetual care is never given adequate money in the budget.

"I love what they're doing here today. There's not a lot of money to do a project of this caliber in a town cemetery so I definitely had to come out and help. They're a great bunch of people," Huckins said.

Manning the grills to provide lunch for the crew of nearly 20 people was Charlie Harris and a team of men and women from both the Legion and the Ladies Auxiliary.

Harbour and fellow veteran Joe Rogers oversaw the proceedings, pleased to see dignity being restored to the modest graves. Harbour pointed out how little was engraved on each stone.

"Most of these only have a name and the company on them. No date of birth or death or anything else on them," Harbour said.

He said at one time a movement was underway to remove all of the graves to the State Veteran's Cemetery in Boscawen. One family's no vote against moving the veterans was all that was needed to keep all of them at Park Cemetery where they were originally laid to rest.

Thanks to Harbour and the American Legion's initiative to restore the stones, they are now standing proud in their corner of the cemetery once more.

WWII veteran Rogers assessed the work done on Saturday and summed it up best by saying, "Hopefully it won't take another 180 years to do this again."

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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