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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Local man instrumental in preserving and restoring cemeteries

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Larry Tippin cleans a monument in one of Putnam County's oldest cemeteries. He is using a nylon brush and water to clean this gravestone. Once clean and dry, an accurate history of person can be taken from the stone and recorded.
If you want to bring a sparkle to Larry Tippin's eyes just ask him about his restoration efforts in Putnam County's pioneer and local cemeteries.

The Roachdale resident became interested in the county's burial grounds while doing genealogical research on his family.

"I was looking for information on my mother's family in the northeast part of the county. The records go back to the turn of the century and the early 1880s only if a physician was present at the death. So I had to get the information from the gravestones," explained Tippin.

He began looking up information about cleaning and restoring headstones, eventually going to workshops held by the Historical Society.

Today, he can look at a stone and tell you what it is and how easy it will be to clean or restore.

"I learned a lot from a geology professor at IUPUI at one of the workshops," he said. "One of the things he showed us was a stone called blue marble. It's a very high quality stone that wears well."

Thanks to all the research he has done both in cemeteries and out, Tippin can tell you all kinds of historical tidbits. One of the stories he tells is about a Confederate soldier on his way home who died on the train and had no identification. The train pulled into the Greencastle station and unloaded the body.

He points to a stone in the Greencastle City (also called Blackstock) cemetery that reads, "Unknown solder died December on way home."

"I think it's very likely this is that very solder," said Tippin.

Another interesting tidbit he tells is about the direction that bodies are laid in the cemeteries.

"They are usually buried with their feet facing east and the inscription on the west side of the tombstone. This is done so that on resurrection day, they will stand to meet the rising sun," revealed Tippin.

Restoration and preservationist Larry Tippin prepares to repair a broken stone in one of Putnam County's many pioneer cemeteries.
He added that a wife is generally buried on the north side of her husband.

Tippin tells that in earlier days when the church bell rang for funerals, it would peal out the age of the person.

"When the church bell rang, the men would head to graveyard to dig the grave. The women prepared the body. Even the older men came, knowing that some of these folks would be digging one for them soon enough," he said.

In his work in the Greencastle City cemetery, he has discovered four revolutionary veterans who are buried there as well as the first recorded burial in Putnam County.

Three solders were listed in the cemetery history. The fourth one was discovered by Tippin. A revolutionary solder was buried with his wife in a family plot. Tippin was able to identify his veteran status by a line on the stone saying the soldier served in John Dodson's Company.

"Benjamin Akers was the first person we know about who was buried in Putnam County in 1825. His gravesite is near a mill. So far, the earliest person in this cemetery was buried in 1829," explained Tippin.

He has also noted six men who served in the War of 1812 and at least 40 Civil War veterans are all buried in the city cemetery.

Many of the early pioneer cemeteries in the county have fallen into a state of disrepair. Several are located on what was a family farm at the time. As families died out or moved off the property, the cemeteries fell into disrepair.

"Many of the people who own them have no direct connections to those interred in the old pioneer cemeteries. Over time, the tombstones have toppled, been broken or deteriorated to the point of being unreadable," explained Tippin.

He talked about becoming interested in restoring these cemeteries.

"Over time, we realized we could perform a service to our heritage and our community by properly restoring these old burial grounds. If we don't try to restore and maintain these pioneer cemeteries they will soon be lost to the ages and no record of these brave and hearty pioneers would remain. We too often take for granted the sacrifices and heartache these original settlers and their early descendants endured," he said.

Tippin formed a group of people interested in restoring the old graveyards. Called Memorial Menders, they have attended workshops and restored over 20 pioneer cemeteries in Putnam County and the surrounding area.

One of the worst things Tippin says has happened in these graveyards is the addition of concrete to the old marble stones when putting them back in place.

"We have seen too much damage to these old tombstones by well-meaning, but misinformed individuals. Since the concrete is much harder than the marble, the tombstones themselves will always break just above the concrete. Even worse, we have seen many broken tombstones set into new concrete in such a way that part of the inscription is gone forever," he said.

Tippin works hard to preserve the records on the tombstones and in mapping out cemeteries. He has even found some that are not recorded anywhere.

"We were looking for information and asked someone who was the oldest person around. We found that person and he not only told us about the cemetery we knew about, but also about another one down the road in the woods. There was no record of it and we might never have found it," said Tippin.

Records of the cemeteries he has worked in have been kept. People trying to find information about their descendents often contact Tippin.

"We can provide the photos to descendants that live far away or can't visit the cemetery. And, if the tombstone is vandalized, we have a record of what it looked like so we can assist in the prosecution of responsible parties," he explained.

The group has over 10,000 digital photos of individual tombstones.

Cleaning the stones is actually a simple process using water and a nylon brush. Tippin has, over time, developed some shortcuts. He carries a large vat of water, spray bottle and has a drill fitted with a nylon brush. Using only these tools, he can clean a stone in a very short time.

Restoring the stones that are broken is a much more complicated process that includes using a sand and gravel mix to reset the stones.

"This allows it some movement so if it's hit by a tree or something, it might not be knocked over," said Tippin.

He uses nylon tie straps and a tripod. He even mixes the crack filler he uses to match the color of the stone.

"The most important rule is to do no harm," he explains.

For information about local cemeteries, restoration or to talk to Tippin, call 522-4156 or e-mail him at ltippin@tds.net

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Larry Tippin is a wonderful individual. From working with him I know that he cares deeply about preserving the memories of the pioneers in this area and beyond. He is constantly working on projects, either in the cemetery or at the computer and libraries. Keep up the good work Larry!

-- Posted by jfelix on Fri, Jul 3, 2009, at 2:34 PM

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