By Donald L. Gibbon
Fallen Grave Stones Rise Again
PITTSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- The idea had been buzzing around in my
head for a couple of years, gathering mass like a snow ball. We could
cover all sorts of bases with this service project. We are a
recently-formed Ward with a new building, right in the middle of the
City of Pittsburgh, with an amazingly diverse membership of all
races, backgrounds, economic stations. Working together is one of the
very best ways for Priesthood holders to really get to know one
another. Hard physical labor is just about the best glue to hold a
bunch of brethren together. We needed a real work project, something
both hard and meaningful. But this project will also need people with
lots of different physical abilities. Here's the plan:
On the east side of Pittsburgh is beautiful old Homewood cemetery, a
huge place, full of big old trees and the graves of the rich and
famous and the ordinary. We walk our two Corgis there frequently. The
mother of one of our Elders was buried there just a month or two ago.
We've noticed that many of the old gravestones have fallen over. What
about offering to set them upright as a service project? This could
combine our long-time interest in genealogy with the fun of hard work
in the out doors. Sounds like a plan!
I visited with Bud Wilson, manager of the cemetery, and floated the
idea. His immediate response was positive. The cemetery, founded in
1878, had once had 100 employees on the staff, now reduced to about
20. Their hands were full just keeping up with grass cutting! They'd
be glad to have the help.
Somehow July 22 became the chosen date for the project, and suddenly
I realized how significant it was: here we were about to get out and
move a bunch of rock around with our bare hands and a few crow bars,
and we would do it almost on top of Pioneer Day! We would call this
our commemoration of the pioneers quarrying rock for the Salt Lake
Temple with not much more than their bare hands! We'd make a virtue
of doing it the hard way and use no mechanized equipment: no front
loaders, no bumper winches, just hand tools.
We read D&C 136, with its appointments of captains of hundreds,
fifties and tens. We appointed our own captains of five, each group
to tackle a fallen stone with their own ingenuity, figure out how to
set it back up themselves. We brought our garden tools, and the
cemetery staff supplied some big crow bars. But best of all they
supplied a tripod and chainfall, a sort of block-and-tackle that died
and went to heaven, a contraption with a couple of different sizes of
chains and a bunch of gears that you suspend from the tripod for
lifting very heavy loads -- such as 400 pound grave stones!
On the appointed morning about 30 brethren showed up, ranging from 10
to seventy years of age, with all different skill levels. One of
these, Lawrence Law, a recent cancer survivor, was the project
scribe. He would keep track of all the graves we worked on. We would
later go back into the cemetery records and ultimately into the
Church's genealogical records and try to locate the families of those
whose graves we worked on, to let them know the graves were now in
good condition. A young woman, Ellie Layland, a sophomore at Brigham
Young University who has several years of photography background in a
Pittsburgh arts training center, would document the project. The Ward
activities committee would show up at noon with a picnic lunch for
And it all worked out, just as planned. The day was perfect, 65
degrees, bright sunshine. The ground was dry. The individual jobs
were just the right amount of challenge, so they could be done, but
it wasn't too easy. The fun part about an effort such as this is that
everyone can contribute their own ingenuity to this sort of primitive
engineering project. The best one of the day was a grave marked with
a three-piece monument, topped by a six foot high granite obelisk.
The whole thing had toppled over. First the base had to be
re-leveled, then an intermediate block re-positioned. The tripod was
set up over the base and attached to the obelisk. Lifting it off
center, the obelisk swung in and knocked off the intermediate block!
Uh-oh! Plan B said to set the obelisk upright on the base, re-attach
the straps from the tripod, lift the obelisk as high as we could, and
then with great grunting and heaving, shove the heavy intermediate
piece back under the obelisk . . . And it worked!
All told we re-set 25 gravestones in three hours. All of them had
been face-down, illegible for a passer-by. If any one had come
looking for their family's graves they could not have found them -- and
now they can. Some were especially interesting. The stone for the
obelisk was engraved in German, a husband and wife, born in Germany
before 1810. One poignant set of four family stones included the
mother and father who had both died in 1888, and the two little
daughters who had each died before the age of two some years earlier.
We're going to publish the names found on all the stones in the
cemetery's own newsletter, so our Church interest in this project
will not be "hidden under a bushel."
So, the event was successful in every way, so much so that everyone
wants to do it again! That's just what we wanted, actually, because
it has occurred to us that adopting some local institutions, such as
the cemetery or old-age homes, places to which we can return again
and again, will be very healthy for both the institutions and the
Ward. We'll get to know them and they us, and we'll all look forward
to seeing each other. We're not likely to run out of work at Homewood
Cemetery: there are 72,000 graves, for at least a few hundred of
which the stones have fallen over.