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Collecting gravestone rubbings is a year-round hobby

Oct. 21, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Halloween seems to bring on everyone's fascination with goblins, ghouls and the walking dead. For some a fascination with the markers of the sleeping dead is a yearlong hobby. Many satisfy this fascination by collecting stone rubbings of grave markers.

Some of us can remember back in school taking a field trip to a local cemetery where we learned how to do this. It is a simple process involving a large sheet of paper, an ink stick such as charcoal or crayon and some masking tape. The paper needs to be large enough that the entire stone will show up on the rubbing. Something as simple as wrapping paper will work for the beginner. As a person becomes more accomplished they may seek out a finer paper. Finally, masking tape is suggested because it leaves no sticky residue on the gravestone.

The process involves taping the paper to the stone and rubbing it with the ink stick until the image on the stone shows up on the paper. To preserve it there are sprays one can use to set the ink. Once finished, the rubbing can be easily read and can serve as permanent record for the death of that person.

Old gravestones are very interesting and tell a story of someone who once walked in your neighborhood. Family trees can be fleshed out, local history can be gathered or perhaps a work of art may be preserved from long forgotten gravestones.

One major rule for those involved in the hobby is to do no harm. Don't get your ink on the stone. Don't press so hard you cause damage, and leave it as good as you found it. There are those who go one step further and work at restoration and preservation of old graveyards. Many older graveyards are often part of someone's private property, so it is always a good idea to get permission from the owner prior to making a rubbing or doing any restoration work.

As with all popular hobbies there is an organization of interested followers. The purpose of The Association for Gravestone Studies is to foster appreciation of the cultural significance of gravestones and burial grounds through its study and preservation. This organization gives good advice on the do's and don'ts of grave rubbings, and its website is worthy of a visit. Find it online at www.gravestonestudies.org/faq.htm.

Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.