Corliss Gets a Bath

Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianpolis, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianpolis, Indiana

Corliss Randle Ruckle

Born Dec. 19, 1877

Died Dec. 4, 1889

One of the most sought out monuments in the sprawling Crown Hill Cemetery at Indianapolis, Indiana, is that which was carved for Corliss Randle Ruckle, who was born December 19, 1877, and died of diphtheria December 4, 1889, just shy of his 12th birthday.  Corliss was the only son of Nicholas R. Ruckle, who had been a captain in the Civil War in Company E in the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. He was promoted to Colonel of the 148th Rec’t Indiana Infantry.  His mother was Jennie Moore Ruckle.

Corliss Randle Ruckle is depicted in a white-collared shirt tied with a bow, wearing knee breeches, button-up shoes, while sitting on a spiral staircase, with an open book and a small bouquet of flowers.  His family memorialized young Corliss in a lifelike statue, customary in the Victorian Era.

Over the years, his monument discolored and became covered with biological growths.  The cemetery undertook a restoration of the monument which was estimated at costing $18,000 to remove the lichens, fill the pock marks, and the discoloration.

At a recent Indiana Association for Gravestone Studies Chapter meeting at Franklin, Indiana, Brad Manzenberger, a cemetery preservationist spoke about cleaning headstones.  Of course, no cleaning should be done without the permission of the cemetery management.  When starting out it is important to know what the marker is made of—marble, granite, sandstone, bronze, or zinc—each may be treated with different cleaning materials.  Before you begin, take before pictures of the marker to document the work.  Be sure to include the name on the marker, inscription, type of gravestone, condition, cemetery name, and the location within the cemetery.

During Brad’s PowerPoint Presentation, he stressed the need to understand why the marker is being cleaned: to improve readability, to remove soling, staining, or biological growth, or to remove graffiti.

When cleaning a marker it is important to consider the following questions:

Will cleaning accelerate deterioration?

Will cleaning cause loss of the original material?

What are the long-term effects of cleaning chemicals?

Plain water, non-ionic detergents, biocides, and some specialty masonry cleaners are acceptable.  Salt-based, bleaches, and acids should not be used to clean markers nor should sand blasting, high-pressure washing, wire brushes, or grinders.  They can do serious damage to marker.

In general, when cleaning a stone monument, soak the gravestone thoroughly with water before the cleaning treatment begins.  Apply the chemical treatment (biological or cleaning agent) and start from the bottom of the marker with a soft-bristle brush and move up using small circular motions.  Use lots of water and rinse thoroughly.  When cleaning bronze of zinc markers Ivory Dish soap, a nylon brush, and water work best.  Again, thoroughly rinse after the cleaning is done.

Keep these simple rules in mind to clean and protect gravestones.

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2 Responses to Corliss Gets a Bath

  1. Mary Kim Schreck says:

    Do you belong to the Indiana Association for Gravestone Studies Chapter? What interesting meetings those must be…the difference in the two pictures of Corliss are remarkable…do most cemeteries take it upon themselves to clean monuments? Do they charge the owners’ families?

    • I do belong to the organization and the Indiana Chapter of the Association for Gravestone Studies. The meetings are held twice a year and the organizers always have a great program.

      Many large cemeteries have a “friends of the cemetery” association that works with the cemetery to raise money for the restoration, repair, and preservation gravestones and cemetery grounds. Smaller cemeteries count on volunteers like Beth Santore in Somerset, Ohio, to lead other volunteers and activists for those kinds of good works. She and her legions of like-minded volunteers have cleaned up many cemeteries. She has also led workshops for other enthusiasts who are just getting started.

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