LEFT: Michael Ritchie of Cottonwood Shores scales a ladder to scrub an obelisk-shaped memorial at the historic Fuchs Cemetery in Cottonwood Shores in advance of the Legends of the Falls hayride on Nov. 4. RIGHT: A before-and-after shot comparing the effectiveness of the tombstone cleaning process used by Nichole and Michael Ritchie. Michael is a Cottonwood Shores City Council member. Courtesy photos
Nichole and Michael Ritchie of Cottonwood Shores have been hard at work cleaning tombstones at the historic Fuchs Cemetery ahead of the Legends of the Falls theatrical hayride in November. Now in its third year, the event travels down the road of local history as re-enactors portray the area’s early settlers, some with the cemetery as stage.
The festival is 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Cottonwood Shores Civic Center, 4111 Cottonwood Drive. Family-friendly activities include a bounce house, face painting, corndoll art, a petting zoo, and vendor booths.
The Ritchies have made cleaning tombstones their hobby since 2018 and have scrub the markers at Fuchs Cemetery each year since the festival’s inception in 2021.
“It’s not something you do one time and everything looks great,” Michael said. “Each time we’ve gone, depending on how in depth we wanted to get, it takes probably about three hours usually on average.”
“For the most part, we’ve copied that because it’s kind of the best approach to doing this without causing any harm, which is very easy to do when you’re dealing with historical cemeteries,” he said.
The process starts with spraying each tombstone with pressurized water to free debris and dirt from the grave marker. Once the monument is damp, soft bristle brushes are used to gently clean away dirt.
“We’ll wipe off any debris that’s on there,” Michael said. “Usually, that could be moss, any stubborn dirt, bird poop, that kind of stuff.”
Once deemed clean, they apply a couple of layers of a complex cleaning agent called D/2 Biological Solution to preserve each tombstone.
“It’s a biological killer,” he said. “When you see a stone that’s stained, that’s typically because an invasive species like a moss or a lichen has grown on the stone and has gotten into little pores on the stone, and that’s actually the stain that you’re looking at. (The cleaning agent) soaks into the stone and kills the biological growth at the root.”
Many of the cleaning agents needed aren’t easy to find, Michael said.
“You’ve got to have very specific materials,” he continued. “You can’t just go in with something you buy at Home Depot for the most part.”
The Ritchies first began cleaning tombstones after Michael visited an ancestor’s gravesite in Copperas Cove.
“We took a while and found his grave, and it was just in a dilapidated state,” he said. “There was moss growing on it. You almost couldn’t read it.”
They decided to do something about it.
“From there, during our travels, we’d stop at any rural cemetery we would see,” Michael said. “It kind of went from there.”