Restoring respect at Old Lorimier Cemetery

Saturday, September 30, 2006
From left, Carolyn Pendergrass, Danielle Nenninger and Erin Hallemeier helped clean the headstones at Old Lorimier Cemetery in Cape Girardeau Friday. (Diane L. Wilson)

Those accustomed to the grimy, green headstones at Old Lorimier Cemetery in Cape Girardeau better take one last look. Enthusiastic preservationists are blasting the mold and filling the cracks to restore these relics.

About 50 people were on hand Friday for the first of a two-day preservation workshop. Funded with a $5,500 state grant from the Department of Natural Resources, the workshop is designed to give amateurs the tools needed to restore cemeteries.

Peggy Lloyd of Washington, Ark., works for the Arkansas Historic Commission. She made the drive up Friday hoping for some insight she could take back and teach others in her home state.

"There are so many family cemeteries and gravestones on land where the family moves away and there is no one there to care for them. These can be crucial historical records," she said.

"You all have a strong influence of historic preservation in this area. We're still trying to get that where I live."

Guest expert Gary Keshner of Lee's Summit, Mo., showed attendees the ropes. They learned how to repair cracks using an epoxy-filled syringe, scrub monuments clean with a bristle brush, apply an antimicrobial liquid called D/2 and strip away unwanted paint.

Best of all, the amateur preservationists had a ready-made practice studio in the historic cemetery, which dates back to 1808.

"When I got to this stone, you couldn't even read the letters, and after scrubbing, here they are," said Carolyn Pendergrass of the Historic Preservation Commission of Scott City. "I think it's about showing respect for the dead. It shows they are not forgotten. You see all of us are so eager to read the names, and that's a way of connecting us with our past."

And one student got a jarring reminder of this connection. Southeast Missouri State student Madeline Bucher was cleaning a headstone when she heard someone next to her intoning a newly discovered surname. "B-U-C-H-E-R," she said.

"Hey, that's my name," Madeline said.

"It was the first one we came to, too," she said. Bucher, of Sikeston, Mo., said she has family roots in the area, but doesn't know if the newly uncovered Elizabeth Bucher, who died sometime in the 1890s, is a relative.

For that, she'll have to go to the ultimate authority. "I'm calling my mom," she said.

Old Lorimier Cemetery at 500 N. Fountain St. has been the site of vandalism in recent years. It was surrounded by a fence in 1992, but intruders knocked over 69 headstones in October 2005.

Brenda Schloss, a planning technician with the planning and zoning department of Cape Girardeau, wrote the application for the state grant. She said she was pleased with Friday's turnout. "We knew there were a lot of people interested, but this is great," she said.

335-6611, extension 245

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