By Pat Pratt
One of the nation’s foremost experts on cemetery restoration visited the Troy City Cemetery last Thursday to share his knowledge, with guests traveling from as far as Iowa to learn firsthand how to better the final resting places of past members of their communities.
The appearance of the 48-State Tour here was hosted by renowned monument restorer Jonathan Appell, CEO of Atlas Preservation, who has helped numerous towns, states, historical societies and cemeteries since founding the company in 2016.
“I created the 48-State Tour with the vision of sharing information and teaching people how to clean and repair stones all over America,” Appell said. “It’s important to a lot of people for many different reasons. The past is a reflection of the present and the future and also to pay tribute to those that lived before us.”
Appell said many towns in America face the same problem as in Troy, cemeteries have fallen into disrepair for a number of reasons. However, in recent years a renewed emphasis on local history has brought restoration to the forefront.
“Historically, when a new cemetery was built and the older one became less active, it started to get less attention,” Appell said. “And then as time went on, it kind of usually gets forgotten. So the oldest one in town, in many situations, had kind of a revival because people are more interested in history in certain respects and the founders of a town or a region always get more interest.”
Appell spent the day in Troy teaching those in attendance the history of headstone crafting in the U.S. He described how different rock was used in different time periods as technology advanced and how each withstood weathering and wear. He discussed how headstones are constructed, the materials used and how to restore each.
“We’re going to start with a walking tour to look at the different types of monuments, different conditions, touch on the geology, different kinds of stone, marble, and granite and issues with broken stones, leveling and falling,” Appell said. “And then we’re going to get into the hands-on portion, which will be learning how to safely clean stones without damaging them so that they could be better interpreted and read easier.”
The 48-State Tour event in Troy follows months of work by the Troy Genealogical Society. Since last fall, members of the society have been working on their own to restore headstones of members of the US Armed Forces interred here. The society, in addition to restoring several headstones during an event in April, is also working to compose the biographies of those soldiers.
Society treasurer Rachel Korte, who has spearheaded that work, said it was an honor to have Appell and the tour at the city cemetery.
“It truly was an honor to host the 48 State Tour,” Korte said. “Jonathan’s mission is commendable and you can tell he’s passionate about preserving America’s cemeteries.
I had watched several of his videos on YouTube and TikTok but never would have expected to have him here in Troy.”
People traveled from as far as Carbondale and Iowa to see the demonstrations. Jeff Smith made the drive from Williamson County because he is interested in history and says several older cemeteries absorbed into the 44,000-acres Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge there have fallen into disrepair.
“A lot of the ground has been bought by the refuge down there and a lot of these old cemeteries are pretty much forgotten and in poor shape,” Smith said. “So we’re kind of interested in cleaning some of them up, as well as a family cemetery that’s been there since the early 1800s.”
Michael Beasley and Tracy Prottsman-Beasley drove from Des Moines and Mount Pleasant, Iowa, respectively. They recently started a headstone restoration business and made the hours-long drive in an effort to learn more about stone and cemeteries.
“I would say it’s a lifelong shared interest that we have, as far as honoring our ancestry, honoring the dead and supporting folks as they navigate the transition of life,” Michael Beasley said. “And so the more that we can learn and the more that we are able to share in this wonderful community of folks – restoring and ensuring that this historical information is maintained. And we’re really excited to support that.”
Others, like Andy Schreiber, live locally and have a personal interest in the Troy City cemetery and its history. Schreiber, of St. Jacob, was one of many participants in the April restoration event and said he and others for years have been doing what they can to help mitigate some of the damage.
“We have actually tried to straighten some of the ones that have fallen over,” Schreiber said. “This goes back ten or fifteen years ago. Some were on the verge of not being readable. We actually raised funds and purchased a few little granite markers that we could just put in the ground next to it so you could still read it.”
Schreiber said the lessons Appell brought to the cemetery on Thursday were invaluable. Prior to the presentation, he said many who were trying to help with upkeep were just “winging it” and now they have a greater understanding of the intricacies involved in monument restoration.
“I mean, he actually knows what he’s doing,” Schreiber said. “That’s invaluable. I’m going to say I’m really pleased, actually, because there’s a lot of people from a lot of different areas and they’re here and also absorbing this knowledge.”
The event would not have been possible without local sponsors, Korte said. Those include The Troy Tourism Fund, Troy VFW Auxiliary and Home Depot of Edwardsville. The society plans to keep working to improve Troy City Cemetery in the months and years ahead, now with Appell’s knowledge making those efforts more effective.
“It was extremely helpful to get his feedback on the conditions in our city cemetery,” Korte said. “Jonathan’s workshop has given us the confidence to complete the next step of repairs for our Veteran memorials. Our goal is to reset all of the Veteran markers that have settled, replace illegible stones and have a maintenance plan in place.
“I believe with a few small groups we could get a good portion of that accomplished.”