By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe
Jane Crist is a familiar sight at the Vicksburg Cemetery where she works at her “retirement project”: cleaning veterans’ headstones.
This project is close to her heart. It started by accident.
Each Memorial Day, Crist plants flowers and carefully tends her family’s graves, which include great-grandparents who came to Vicksburg in the 1800s. While planting in May, she noticed a marker so blackened by layers of dirt and dust that the information was no longer readable.
“It just caught my eye, and it bothered me.” She began to gradually and gently scrub the old stone when she visited the cemetery. Eventually her work revealed the name of a 10-year-old boy, Lemuel Snyder, who Crist learned had died of rheumatic fever. Seeing this child’s restored headstone was so satisfying that Crist began her research and restoration, beginning with veterans’ graves.
Crist’s family has generations of veterans, including her grandfather, brother, son, and grandson. This deep connection energizes her efforts and keeps her focused.
She first sought approval through the township and stays in contact with Schoolcraft Township’s clerk, Virginia Mongreig, who has provided forms, granted approval for Crist’s work, and forwarded information about the cemetery.
Next, Crist conducted extensive research about safe products to use. Two cleaning solutions approved for monument and marker cleaning are in concentrate form and are expensive. Crist says the most expensive is $100 a gallon. But it is the one she likes to use as it works the best.
Crist explained that each veteran’s grave should be decorated with a flag and a special medallion if service was during wartime. Crist replaces flags and bent poles and carefully cleans the grave markers. This visual honor for veterans is important to Crist and fills her with emotion.
Thanks to a Facebook post by her daughter, friends and members of the community have contributed money to buy several gallons of concentrate, enough to keep Crist supplied through the warm weather.
Armed with a brush, spray bottle of cleaner, putty knife and determination, Crist continues her work and has additional plans for improving the condition of the cemetery.
Throughout the old cemetery are markers in need of repair. A visitor sees sunken stones, broken or damaged stones, and even former upright towers with all the pieces leaning against the base. Crist’s dream is to not only improve the markers of veterans, but to repair and restore the old markers throughout.
Crist says, “These graves represent the people who sacrificed and made it possible for us to live a good life in this village. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.”
By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe