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She stands before the pioneer gravestone and looks at what the wind and water have done. She was last here four months ago. At that time she could read the words "killed by Indians" on John Quayle's ornately carved headstone.

Now those words have crumbled. The face of the sandstone is blank once again.Yet Carol Edison remembers who is buried there and why he died.

"We are losing them. It's sad. These gravestones are beautiful pieces of art and we are losing them. It breaks your heart," says Edison, folk arts coordinator at the Utah Arts Council.

Edison just received a grant from the Utah Endowment for the Humanities to study 19th-century gravestones in southwestern Utah. She's photographing the markers and doing research to determine who carved them.

She can't preserve the stones, but she's working as quickly as she can to preserve the stories they tell.

Edison is an English major who didn't discover her passion for headstone history until 1978, when a group of local women donated a large collection of gravestone rubbings to the Arts Council. Edison was assigned to put together an exhibition and take it to schools throughout the state.

"At first I was recruited," she says. "Then I was fascinated."

Now, Edison says, she's rather obsessed. She loves to travel "because every new town means a new cemetery."

During a visit to the Salt Lake City Cemetery, Edison explained the deductive process she is using on 19th-century stones in 20 southern Utah cemeteries.

"You see, Quayle's stone used to say that he came from the Isle of Man. You can still read `Isle of Man' on his wife's stone.

"I think it was carved by Charles Lambert. Both Quayle and Lambert were related to the Cannon family."

After she takes a photograph, Edison will crouch on her hands and knees to get a side view of the stones. At that angle, certain irregularities can be seen on the lower right hand corner of the stone. The carvers signatures are sometimes too worn to be deciphered even by close observation.

In that case, Edison will make a rubbing of the signature. If that still doesn't reveal the artisan's name, Edison has other methods.

"I have a couple of carvers in southern Utah whose styles are similar," she says. "John Wilkinson from Leeds and Asmus Jorgensen from Orderville. Neither signed his stones.

"So I'm spending time going through census records and family histories. Sometimes you get great clues that way. You see if you can find that one of them had a child or wife who died before he did, I'll know for sure he carved that stone."

From diaries, Edison has learned not only who carved certain stones but how much the

stonecarver charged. "The average price for a stone was $80 in the 1860s," she says. Often the carver was paid in livestock or grain.

"When you find out who carved the stones you can start to map some trade routes and distribution patterns between pioneer communities," she says. "It tells you a lot about 19th-century commerce."

Edison will use her $3,500 grant from the Utah Endowment for the Humanities to take two months of leave from the Arts Council, to do photographing and research, to prepare a lecture/slide show, and to prepare some historical brochures.

Eventually, she says, she will write a book about Utah pioneer gravestones.

"I'd like to write something for general audiences," Edison says, because she thinks the average person finds gravestones almost as interesting as she does.


(Additional information)

Headstone styles come full circle

-The first headstones in Utah were made of sandstone quarried in Red Butte Canyon, according to Carol Edison of the Utah Arts Council.

They were carved by English stonecarvers, skilled craftsmen who built the Nauvoo, Salt Lake and Manti LDS temples and taught their sons the trade.

They used traditional styles and symbols - like doves, praying hands and roses - but each stone was an original, often signed by the man who carved it. Each stone was commissioned by the family. Each commemorated an individual life.

-When the railroad came through in 1869, Utah settlers began importing marble gravestones from Vermont. These markers were usually finished. Edison says, "You can look in the old catalogs and see the styles that were available. By 1910 Vermont companies were sending temple gravestones to Utah."

When the stones arrived, local carvers had only to chisel in a name and dates.

-Gravestones became even more impersonal and less ornate during the 1920s, when the development of the pneumatic drill made it possible for carvers to work in granite. Granite weathers well in Utah, Edison says, but it doesn't lend itself to delicate carvings. Granite in local cemeteries may have been quarried from as far away as South Africa.

-By the 1950s, carvers began to use stencils and sandblasting techniques on granite. "Custom work came back in style," says Edison. "Now we've come full circle."

Gravestones are becoming more personal with verses and symbols - such as a piano, a dog or a mountain scene - that really say something about an individual's life. And more and more often, Edison is glad to report, local carvers are taking pride in their work and signing their stones.