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Baraboo ‘Cemeterians’ clean veterans’ graves

August 24, 2018

Thomas Henry Tudor’s gravestone hasn’t looked this clean since he was buried in Baraboo’s Walnut Hill Cemetery almost 93 years ago.

David Klingman and Andy Miller don’t know Tudor’s family, nor do they know whether any relatives or descendants will ever visit his grave to admire their nearly five hours of work ridding the stone of dirt and lichens.

All they knew was Tudor served as a lieutenant in the 128th Infantry, 32nd Division, in World War I.

On Facebook, Miller and Klingman are known as “the Baraboo Cemeterian.”

They’re both retired Army veterans. Both were deployed overseas — Klingman in Iraq, Miller in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both are members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 987 in Baraboo. Both have an affinity for history and genealogy.

And, on rainless evenings while the warm weather lasts, both can often be found in the older of two veterans’ sections in Walnut Hill Cemetery, running soft-bristled brushes over the time-dirtied stones marking the final resting places of veterans.

“It’s not just a stone. It’s a soldier,” Miller said.

“Yes. There’s a person,” Klingman added.

Miller said the idea of sprucing up veterans’ graves, and their “Cemeterian” name, came from a TV news spot about a man named Andrew Lumish, who saw long-neglected and deteriorating veterans’ tombstones at a cemetery in Tampa, Florida, and took it upon himself to restore the stones’ beauty.

Before undertaking their project, Klingman and Miller consulted with caretakers at Walnut Hill, a 52-acre, bluff-top cemetery on Baraboo’s East Street where about 11,500 people are interred.

Just by examining the flags VFW members placed on veterans’ graves, Miller estimated about 10 percent of the people interred at Walnut Hill are veterans.

Baraboo’s annual Memorial Day observance is held in the cemetery, usually in the veterans’ section with newer burials. There also are veterans who are buried in parts of the cemetery outside of the sections set aside for veterans.

Klingman and Miller are working in the older veterans’ section.

On Wednesday night, they cleaned the grave markers of veterans of the Civil War.

The process starts with filling a watering can and sprinkling the stone, so the plants growing on it “think” it’s raining and open up.

That’s when the stone gets sprayed with D/2.

D/2 is a biodegradable product containing no bleaches, salts or acids. It’s designed to remove dirt and plant residue from a variety of surfaces, including granite or marble that may have stood in the elements for a century-and-a-half.

Other tools of the trade include soft-bristled brushes, including toothbrushes for precision cleaning, and bamboo skewers to remove debris from the stones’ engraving.

Miller said he had a special affinity for the soldier whose stone he was cleaning on Wednesday, even though he’s not sure of his name.

The lettering had eroded over the years, and Miller at first thought the surname might be Auleman, until a few strokes of the brush made the second letter look more like a B than a U – W.W. Ableman.

The stone did not include birth or death dates, but it said the soldier was a member of Company F, Third Wisconsin Cavalry.

Miller, who is retired after 20 years in the Army, was in the cavalry, too.

Cleaning the stones is only part of what Klingman and Miller are trying to do.

They also strive to find details of the soldiers’ stories.

The gravestone of Thomas Henry Tudor, one of the first stones they cleaned, didn’t provide information that Miller found later in an article from an unnamed newspaper, in local archives.

In 1919, the story said, Tudor and his friend, Alger C. Pearson, 24, were driving an automobile. It crashed. Pearson, who was the local postmaster, was killed, and Tudor was injured. Whether his death six years later was attributable to the crash remains unknown.

Klingman said at least one of their fellow VFW members has expressed interest in joining in their project – and they’d welcome the help.

Although they’ve fielded requests from people to clean an ancestor’s gravestone, they have no plans to clean any markers of non-veterans’ graves, nor do they plan to work in any cemetery other than Walnut Hill.

“I think we have enough to keep us busy, until somebody needs to clean my gravestone,” Miller said.

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