Johnny Baker: Civil War veteran, born 1831, died 1898. Henrietta Seversen: school teacher, born 1850, died 1882. Elmo Sprag: farmer, born 1860, died 1909.
These pioneers and thousands like them helped tame the prairie, settle the Old West and build a new country, says Country America, a Meredith magazine. A scant two generations later, says Paul Maddy of Perry, Iowa, they're forgotten. For evidence, he suggests visiting just about any of the rural cemeteries that dot the countryside, places where the markers of our ancestors lie fallen, entombed by prairie grass. Many are broken and cracked, and some lean precariously, ready to fall.For the past eight years, Maddy has been on a mission to rescue and restore these gravestones. He now travels to rural cemeteries to show local citizens how to straighten or repair the stones.
"In Iowa alone," says Maddy, "there are at least 300,000 stones that need to be rescued." Other states have similar problems. "I've been to Canada and Oregon and back. I've done research in 24 states. Restoration efforts just scratch the surface."
It takes Maddy two days to set up the demonstration, complete with signs explaining the entire process. The public demonstration itself lasts another three days.
For his time, Maddy accepts no fees. "I ask groups to pay for my expenses only if they're 100 percent satisfied with the demonstration," he says. In addition to being generous with his time, Maddy has also been generous with his own finances. Because there was no information available on the ways to repair gravestones, he's spent more than $9,000 of his own money learning how to do it himself.
"For years, I knew there were problems. I assumed when I retired in 1985 that I'd find books on cemetery care and gravestone restoration. That turned out to be quite wrong," he says. "I was looking for stories on communities that had done some group work in cemeteries," he says. "There were none."
He then went to university libraries, the Library of Congress and the British National Library. "There were dozens of books related to design, but not a thing about how to restore and repair the stones," says Maddy. "I concluded that whatever I learned on my own would be useful - I would not be wasting my time."
For the next year and a half, Maddy collected information on adhesives and experimented on his own. He talked to manufacturers and engineers. He finally came up with what he thinks is the best adhesive for mending old, broken markers. "For real tough bonding jobs, gel epoxy is the material of choice," Maddy says. The gel epoxy is noted for its great strength and its resistance to chemical, alkali and acid attacks.
Maddy says just about anybody can help: "If you can dig tulips, you can dig gravestones safely."