Learning Cemetery Preservation

Hi! I’m Zack Mohlis. I’m a new intern at here at PAM. I’m very excited to be a part of this wonderful organization. This fall and winter, I’ll be working on various things here and there, but my main project is the February Heart Bombing campaign. I’m coordinating a way for all of us old-building-lovers to show our love and appreciation for old buildings throughout the state.


In addition to this project, I’m trying to learn as much as I can about preservation and related issues. I’ll be reading texts, attending events, and doing what I can to immerse myself in the preservation world. In order to get a better understanding of the nitty-gritty of preservation, I will be reading through all of the NPS Preservation Briefs. Kind of thrilling, right? A while back, by reading through Preservation Briefs 1 and 2—“Cleaning and Water-Repellent Treatments for Historic Masonry Buildings” and “Repointing Mortar Joints in Historic Masonry Buildings”—I learned more than I ever expected about how to care for old stone structures. And then I was presented with a great opportunity to apply this knowledge in a related and interesting way—with a historic cemetery preservation workshop.

The workshop was put on by the newly-formed Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps and hosted in the annex of the Duluth Armory Arts and Music Center. The workshop began with a presentation by Jarrod Roll—museum curator, preservationist, and savior of gravestones. Roll owns a side-business called Save Your Stones, and works as a contractor to clean, re-set, and restore grave markers and monuments. After the presentation about cemetery symbolism and history, preservation best practices and techniques, we went out into the historic Scandia cemetery to do some work. Participants worked in teams to remove lichen from grave markers or re-set and level monuments that were leaning or toppled.

The workshop was very informative and the bonus hands-on training was great. I learned a lot, but if I had to sum it up to a few points, I’d say:

  1. If you are cleaning a gravestone, use the gentlest version of any tool or process.
  2. Do not use any household cleaners; use a chemical cleaner called D2.
  3. Always get permission to clean or re-set grave markers.
  4. Read NPS Preservation Brief 1; it was remarkably relevant to gravestones.
  5. Grave monuments are very heavy and can be finicky. If you aren’t totally confident in your skills or ability, hire a professional like Jared Roll.

I’m glad to have the opportunity to attend events like this and to be involved in preservation by working with PAM. I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can and I’m excited to help out with the Heart Bombing campaign. If you see me around the office or out in the community, feel free to get in touch to talk about preservation, old buildings or anything else. When I’m not designing Valentines Day cards for historic buildings or fixing up gravestones, I enjoy running park trails, fishing for trout, or hiking the Minnesota wilderness.

Thanks for reading,

Zack Mohlis

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