N.S. man takes pride in removing the ravages of time from old tombstones
Published Thursday, July 12, 2018 3:19PM ADT
Last Updated Friday, July 13, 2018 12:23PM ADT
A quiet figure moves silently through the cemetery, touching and examining each of the headstones.
It's not an actor in a scene from a scary movie, it’s Keith Elliott, who travels to cemeteries repairing and cleaning old headstones.
“I find it very peaceful working in a cemetery,” he said. “I don't get spooked out or unsettled by it. I find it's very quiet. Nobody complains. It's just, it's nice work.”
He uses a special solution to clean the tombstones.
“It's half water, and it's half non-ionic soap,” Elliott says. “So it won't react with the stone. It won’t discolour the stone, but it’ll work on the biological material in the stone and help kill it.”
Elliott has either cleaned or repaired close to twenty headstones in St. Matthew’s Church in Wallace, N.S.
The vast majority of the markers are made of sandstone or limestone. Some have stood for centuries, but the ravages of time, erosion, frost and even vandalism can take a heavy toll.
Elliott believes it's important to try and save them.
“It's better than to see the stones fall into the ground and be forgotten,” Elliott says. “The stones definitely won't last forever, but why not take as good a care as we can while they're here.”
The stones at St. Matthew’s came from an old seaside cemetery in Joggins, about 100 kilometres away.
They're difficult to read, and some have hairline cracks.
“The family basically rescued them from falling into the ocean and stored them for a while. Now they'd like to find a new home for them and they're not sure what the next step is,” Elliott says.
For amateur genealogists, an important step in their research is often a visit to old cemeteries, says Harvey Gullon of the North Cumberland Historical Society.
“So, it's very important that we keep them up to date, the stones and the cemetery book, the documentation for anybody that's doing research,” Gullon said.
By the end of the summer, Elliott expects to have repaired and cleaned as many as eighty headstones in Cumberland County. And given the nature of the job, he also expects to be back at it again next year.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Dan MacIntosh.