Percy Cemetery Restoration
do. We plugged along slowly but Mother Nature was rapidly overwhelming us. We would cut weeds and brush, and they would grow back seemingly overnight.
The summer of 1986 was the best and the worst of times, to paraphrase Charles Dickens. After the college closed in the middle of May, I was going up to the cemetery every morning. Sam was still teaching but was there on weekends. In late May, we obtained the services of George Williams of Romney who came in and sprayed the whole cemetery with weed killer. This was a last resort decision because the two of us simply could not keep up with Nature's pace.
In June, Sam was finished with school (forever, it turned out because that's the year he retired), and we began cutting the dead and dying weeds and brush. Small mountains of debris again accumulated in various locations all over the cemetery. We had no idea how to get rid of the leaves, weeds, branches, brush, trees, and assorted other detritus that was piling up.
We finally decided the best thing to do was burn it. We obtained a fire permit and began burning huge, hot fires in the early evening (which was the only legally permissible time). We would work in the mornings and come back around 4 PM to burn for two or three hours. Once the fires were down, we had to spray them with water. For this we used lots of water supplied two people whose homes border on the cemetery: Jim Thomas and Bob Sweitzer, two men who became ardent supporters. Jim was to become our unofficial "timekeeper," keeping jocular tabs on the number of hours we would work each day. Since Jim was keeping time, it was a running joke for Sam and I to ask him when our next paycheck would appear. Bob Sweitzer's garage was our tool storage shed. Both were more than willing to loan us the use of their tools when we needed them.
After we burned a pile, we cleaned up the burn areas and planted grass, a very significant event. Now, we thought, we are really making progress. Next, we raked, and raked, and raked. We were getting down to the small stuff. The residue from the fires and the small debris that we raked up were used to fill in holes, low spots and sunken graves throughout the cemetery.
Then came the lawnmowers. We first began to use them to cut weeds. Soon, however, were able to cut growing grass. It was hard mowing at first because there was still a lot of debris our raking had missed. Bits of wood, glass, rocks (you name it) would come flying out from under the lawnmower and hit us in the legs and sometimes the face. I destroyed a set of plastic wheels on my mower and had to replace them with metal ones. I don't know how many times our mowers died after hitting stumps. Sam's mower was in the shop many times, suffering from overexertion and heat exhaustion. Eventually, thank goodness, mowing became less difficult and more routine.
Meanwhile, we were moving and removing large rocks from various places around the cemetery and using them to fill in sunken areas, which we then covered with dirt from some old piles in the cemetery. Sam collected some of the bigger rocks to build a wall at his house. We asked a local contractor for some topsoil to fill in some of the holes and he brought us clay filled with boulders. No offense to this man but it wasn't topsoil; but there was a lot of it. Sam eventually moved most of the dirt by himself and accumulated more rocks for his wall.
One of the biggest problems was dealing with all the stumps that remained after we cut down the trees. There were hundreds of them, big and small. During much of the fall of 1986 and spring of 1987, Sam (then in retirement), wandered about the cemetery with his trusty ax and literally cut out the stumps by hand. Sam removed virtually all of the stumps in this manner. For a few of the largest stumps, the city of Frostburg donated the use of its backhoe. With all those stumps removed, though, mowing became much easier.
While Sam was doing all the hard work, I was mostly planting grass. As we cleared little sections of space, I would lay down seed. Another big problem during the summer of 1986 was lack of rain. Sometimes it was weeks before the grass seed sprouted. But eventually all of it did.
Throughout the summer of 1986, we began to temporarily re-erect the headstones in the cemetery. Most of the time, we just propped them upright with sticks. A few were still standing but almost daily we would uncover a
Anthony E. Crosby and Michael R. Olson
28 x 22 cms
Cemeteries, Maryland, Frostburg; Obituaries, Maryland, Frostburg. .
Frostburg (Md.), 1800-1972