ALEXANDRIA — 60 volunteers from Fargo to Mankato, including representatives from five Minnesota historical societies, participated in a free cemetery restoration and cleanup workshop at Kinkead Cemetery on Tuesday, July 5.
The event was moderated by the CEO of
and creator of
Jonathan Appell, 61, of Southington, Conn.
48 State Tour began in 2020 with a mission to teach 48 communities in 48 states in 48 days how to properly care for cemeteries while guiding them through hands-on cleaning and repair demonstrations.
The workshops are free to communities because they are sponsored by Appell’s company, Atlas Preservation, which sells American-made products for restoration, conservation and construction.
“It’s part selflessness and part adventure — traveling around the country — and it’s also to promote our business,” Appell said when asked why he started the effort.
Appell began the workshop with an introduction to the history and geology of headstones, then focused on damage and vandalism issues at Kinkead, followed specifically by a demonstration of cleaning with the non-toxic product. .
developed by restorers, which removes debris while protecting the stone from future dirt and grime.
Appell says that in his more than 20 years as a gravestone and historical monument specialist, plus the previous 15 years as a monument installer, he’s seen a lot of “really bad things” done that harm to stone, such as placing them in a puddle of concrete and cleaning them with “harsh chemicals”.
After the demonstration, volunteers scattered around the cemetery, armed with the solution and soft bristle brushes, to clean up the weathered headstones. Later in the afternoon, fractured tablets were reunited, a fallen monument was raised, and tilted stones were straightened.
“The goal is to make repairs that are representative of the most common conditions people encounter,” Appell said.
According to Appell, there are many reasons why the repair and cleaning of stone is necessary, including to pay homage to those who have gone before us, but the main reason for him is safety. He said large leaning rocks fell on people, resulting in injuries and sometimes death.
Alexandria is Appell’s 33rd stop this summer. After the tour, he said he would be working on a monument to Francis Scott Key – who wrote the Star Spangled Banner – among others.
Douglas County Historical Society director Brittany Johnson reached out to the organization to visit Alexandria as a Minnesota stopover for the 2022 season. Johnson said she’s started looking for groups to hold workshops repairing graveyards after vandals damaged 20 headstones in Kinkead last October, sparking community interest in preserving local graveyards.
“Douglas County has over 50 small cemeteries and burial sites,” Johnson said. “People want to deal with these things, but they want to know how best to do it.”
Johnson said she had 60 volunteers in attendance at Tuesday’s workshop, some from as far east as Mankato and as far west as Fargo. She said 60 to 70 headstones — “maybe more” — were cleaned and/or repaired after the 48 State Tour workshop.
“He (Appell) said it was one of his busiest shops. And I’m really proud of that for Douglas County,” Johnson said. “It shows that in our rural areas we care about our history.”
When asked, Apple said, “The historical company has done a fabulous job. So yeah, that’s definitely one of the biggest turnouts so far.”
Johnson said the oldest stones date back to the mid-1860s and 70s, with some of those who died being born in the late 1700s.
Among the volunteers were four other representatives from historical societies across the state – Otter Tail, Grant and Pope counties and the Maplewood area.
Pope County Historical Society Director Merlin Peterson attended the workshop to learn about the process of cleaning and repairing headstones in preparation for the
workshop in August – co-hosted by the Pope and Douglas County Historical Societies.
Kinkead is the second cemetery in Douglas County to receive a volunteer cleanup this summer with the help of the Douglas County Historical Society. Johnson said with two cemeteries on the books, she would like to add three more before the winter season.
Those interested in donating for future cemetery work can donate money in person or mail it to the Douglas County Historical Society at 1219 Nokomis Street, Alexandria, MN 56308.