A grave undertaking atop Old Burial Hill

Restoration work on damaged gravestones is underway at the historic Old Burial Hill Cemetery. A two-person team has begun making repairs to some of the most deteriorated slate headstones and markers at the colonial-era site.

Standley Goodwin, member of the Old Burial Hill Oversight Committee, examines weathered grave markers at the historic cemetery on Monday, Oct. 16. Goodwin, a historian of the site, says continual fundraising and awareness are needed to preserve the colonial-era burial ground.

As of Oct. 16, Michael Gallagher, owner of Village Green Restoration, and apprentice Jacob Thomas had carefully epoxied a handful of head and foot stones dating to the early 18th century that had snapped in two.

“We repair this with structural epoxy,” said Gallagher. “Then we’ll fill in any joints or loose cracks with different types of fill material.” 

Gallagher has over 25 years experience in historic preservation projects. His team was contracted by the Old Burial Hill Oversight Committee to restore some of the most damaged gravestones. 

An assessment identified 17 headstones, five footstones and 166 grave markers in need of repair, totaling about $75,000 of work. Initial funding is in place to restore the Lost at Sea Fishermen’s Monument, Gen. John Glover’s tomb and 10 other grave markers.

Apprentice Jacob Thomas, right, and Michael Gallagher carefully lower a heavy headstone to the ground as they work to repair damaged markers at Old Burial Hill Cemetery in Marblehead on Monday, Oct. 16.

The Historical Commission is funding work on the Fishermen’s Monument and Glover’s Regiment expressed interest in helping restore Glover’s tomb. A $10,000 appropriation from the 2022 Town Meeting is funding the restoration work underway.

Gallagher and Thomas erected a tripod with a pulley and rope near markers to hoist and lower heavy stones. Headstones that had formerly lain cracked and broken were mended and carefully placed on the grass to allow the epoxy repairs to set. Sections around each stone were taped off with yellow caution tape, demarcating the fragile work in progress.

The work will take about a week to complete, they said. Alex Finigan, a new member of the oversight committee, looked on eagerly as the work progressed on Monday.

“What excites me is this is more than just a [cemetery],” he said. “It’s a really important historic site.”

The slate stones, each carved by hand, are “relics of a way of life that is no longer present,” Finigan added.

A restored slate headstone lays on the grass, taped off, at Old Burial Hill Cemetery on Monday, Oct. 16. Sections around repaired stones are cordoned off to allow epoxy repairs to fully set before returning the historic markers to their original positions.

“I find this stuff beautiful and interesting. This is our history,” said Finigan. “There are so few places like this, so few of these remaining that I think it’s really important.”

Standley Goodwin, a member of the oversight committee and a historian of the cemetery, agreed on the importance of upkeep.

“If you want this cemetery to continue to exist,” he said, “these stones have got to be repaired.”

He and Finigan said continual fundraising and awareness will be needed to maintain this link to Marblehead’s past. The Old Burial Hill Oversight Committee will begin a fundraising campaign within the year. 

Goodwin said the cemetery, established in the late 17th century, holds about 60 Revolutionary War veterans among its 600 graves.

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