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Acid rain is destroying the early history of the United States

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posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 08:09 PM
Acid rain is destroying the early history of the United States. I know this sounds like a flame, but really it is not.

I am an experienced genealogist, having spent thousands of hours doing genealogical research. I also have spent thousands of hours in cemeteries taking photographs of gravestones. Here is a link to my home page on which is a website for documenting the burial places for people:

Link to my home page on

Anyone who has been to cemeteries in Western Pennsylvania has seen the old, marble gravestones that are weathering away. For many of them the inscription is almost gone. For many the inscription is entirely gone.

Marble was the type of rock used for gravestones in the early history of the United States. So as these gravestones get dissolved away we are literally losing information on the early settlers of the United States. I am willing to bet there are millions of lost gravestones in the United States already.

Why are the marble gravestones dissolving? Marble is composed of calcium carbonate which readily dissolves in hydrochloric acid or even just carbonic acid. When rainfall falls through the atmosphere it mixes with carbon dioxide forming carbonic acid. This then falls on the marble gravestones dissolving them. All types of "granite" gravestones remain untouched. I suspect that the acid from industrialization which gets pumped into the atmosphere though coal-burning plants speeds up the dissolving of the marble.

What can we do? The main thing we can do is get out and digitally photograph the old gravestones. People are allowed access to any public cemetery.

Here is a link to one of my "virtual cemeteries" on which shows many of the old marble gravestones and the pathetic state that they are in:

Here is a link to a video I shot today showing an old marble gravestone, plus two granite gravestones beside it:

There are also still photos of the gravestones at Flickr. Plus the same photos at a lower resolution can be found at

posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 08:21 PM
So what can you do to help?

Anyone can go to a public cemetery and photograph gravestones. You can then set up an account at and post the photos there.

I use a Photoshot S3 Is camera and it works very well. It has 12x and the wide-angle setting comes in real handy. I shoot the standard photos at 1600x12oo then use Irfanview to reduce all photos to a width of 525 pixels. If you look at this memorial on you can see the photos I took today

The widescreen photo is 525x925, and I often reduce them in size so that they are 800 pixels wide.

posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 08:30 PM
Can you clean a gravestone?

Technically, No. For the granite gravestones, the biggest problem is bird poop, and I would recommend digitally fixing the photos when you get home.

For marble, the biggest problem is lichen. For many marble gravestones the inscription is completely obscured by lichen. So we have two choices. We can avoid cleaning the stone, all the while knowing that the inscription will be gone within 100 years. Or we can clean it. I have cleaned lichen from many marble gravestones, but don't tell anybody. Here is the correct procedure. Wet the lichen on the face of the stone thoroughly. Use an old piece of terry cloth like an old, white athletic sock, to spread the water around. Let it sit for a minute, then repeat wetting it. Rub moderately with the sock to remove the lichen. It is often best to not clean the recessed inscriptions too much because they are easier to read if they are left dark.

I have cleaned many marble stones this way. It is completely safe. I am a geology major (Penn State) with a 3.9 average in my geology classes, so I know about rocks! I have yet to see this procedure damage a marble stone. However, you are taking a risk with the authorities.

posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 08:31 PM
I've taken lots of photos of headstones at cemeteries in my area and uploaded them to findagrave. It's a great idea! My own ancestors headstone was almost illegible, but thanks to being able to add contrast to the photo, I was able to read it.

Another thing that I have found is that flat stones get grass growing over them and if you don't know where the stone is, you might never find it. That's unfortunate. If you bring a long metal rod with you and poke in the dirt, it will help you to locate a flat stone.

posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 08:33 PM
I just went to the site you linked to and was amazed to find many of my family members gravesites listed.

My lineage is from Penn... In fact an area named Heffley Creek is named after my ancestors. I don't know if you are in that part of the state but, either way, thank you for your interest and work in preserving these very important sources of information.

posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 08:35 PM

Kudos to you. I just posted this thread five minutes ago and it is very heartening to get a reply from someone who is contributing by studying their own ancestor's gravestones. And the way to preserve it is to put it on Findagrave as you are doing.


posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 08:42 PM
Hefficide, I'm in Southwestern Pennsylvania just east of Pittsburgh. Findagrave is turning into quite a significant source of information. I'm glad you found some of your ancestors there.

This is not a remark against you, but unfortunately a lot of the gravestones at Findagrave are just the modern ones made of granite or the old marble ones that are still easy to read. I'm one person who attempted to document the marble stone with inscriptions that are only "half there." Here is a good example:

A lot of people photographing gravestones would just walk past this one. But these are the ones that need to be preserved the most. And you can see in the "bio" for her that the old cemetery report got her middle name wrong so you can't rely on old cemetery reports 100%.

posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 08:51 PM
Exposed marble has a life of about 200 years.
It is soft and porous.

The degradation you see is normal.

I haven't looked this but should be interesting:

Concrete likewise has a shorter life than we think.
It begins to degrade after 20 years.

posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 09:01 PM
OhZone said "Exposed marble has a life of about 200 years. It is soft and porous."

Did you look at the gravestone of Annie Bell MUFFLEY that I linked to above? The gravestone is 121 years old and already about 20% of it is completey gone. You can't read age in years at death. You can't read the year that she died. So I don't know where you are getting this completely bogus figure of "200 years." Wherever you got it, it certainly does not apply to the inscriptions on marble gravestones.

You also said "The degradation you see is normal" Isn't that exactly what I said. I told you about the rain combining with carbon dioxide to form carbonic acid? But I still say that the coal burning plants and probably other industrial plants are making the rain more acidic.

posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 09:20 PM
Here are some gravestones with partial or almost complete loss of the inscriptions. That are 100 to 112 years old:

1910 gravestone - 100 years old
S and A in Samuel are almost gone. Much of the information on his Civil War service is gone.

1900 gravestone - 110 years old
The year of birth and year of death are almost unreadable.

1912 gravestone - 108 years old
At the present time, the day of birth and day of death are completely unreadable. The remainder of the inscription is almost unreadable.

1908 gravestone - 112 years old
Day of birth is completely gone.


The following gravestone is only 110 years old and it is just about completely gone. The only thing that "saved me" in being able to figure out who he was came from information on a family tree on the Internet and an old cemetery report.

1900 gravestone - 110 years old

Here is what I put in his bio on his memorial on

"His middle name and information on his dates of birth and death are from the "hawksdomain" family tree on WorldConnect.

As you can see in the photos, all of the dates of birth and death have been weathered off this stone. We are fortunate that we can still see his middle initial, plus a portion of "Charles." When I originally read this stone at the gravesite I could only see "Charles E." and "VANTINE."

The 2003 Pleasant Hill Cemetery report lists him as "Charles, no dates" son of James M. and Adaline (BIRCH) VANTINE."

So the life of the inscriptions on marble gravestones is NOT 200 years. At 100-112 years the inscriptions are already being lost.

posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 09:35 PM
The following comment could almost be complete in line with the stated purpose of ATS.

he following link discusses the history of gravestones paid for by the federal government of the United States. I know from experience that all of the actual stones are made of marble.


"In April 1941 the Under Secretary of War approved the use of granite material for stones similar to the existing designs of the Civil and Spanish-American Wars, and the Confederate and General types. These granite headstones were discontinued in 1947, however, because of the inability to procure them within the price limitations authorized by the War Department."

What is that saying that the British have? "Penny wise and pound foolish." In other words, the government saves money on marble, but have to replace the gravestone 120 years later. Today, monument companies have told me that at the present time (2010) marble and granite gravestones cost the same.

By the way, in recent years I have seem a lot of "level" markers made of bronze which seem to be official markers paid for by the federal government, or possible they are paid for by veterans groups. The bronze will last a very long time. But I believe the federal cemeteries like Arlington still use marble.

posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 09:52 PM
Is the dissolving of marble gravestones a conspiracy? Not really, but it is somewhat controversial to me because this process of the old marble stones being dissolved is happening, and history is being lost, yet very few people know about it, and virtually nobody cares.

posted on Sep, 6 2010 @ 10:22 PM
I hope this thread will raise some awareness of the problem. And I hope some more people will become involved. It's satisfying work, but it can sometimes be overwhelming as well because there is so much that needs to be done.

In the end, do people really care about history? In the United States too often the answer is "No."

posted on Sep, 11 2010 @ 06:47 AM
I just wanted to post a link to a memorial I created 5 months ago on It shows a marble gravestone whose inscription is almost completely dissolved away.

Unfortunately, I have been to some small, old cemeteries wher I have seen at least fifty gravestones which are this bad or worse. It is not unusual at all to see a cemetery with 20 marble gravestones where the inscription is completely (100%) gone.

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