Time and the elements are not kind to many of the older tombstones and monuments in Green-Wood Cemetery.
Erosion, weather and other natural conditions left some of the relics in such bad shape that whole gravestones were completely buried in the ground, leaving a nameless mound.
But thanks to the work of a group of Brooklyn teens, the individuals memorialized by those stones aren’t going to be forgotten.
Eight high school students from the borough completed a five-week internship program at the cemetery on Thursday, where they researched, recovered and restored over 150 stones within the northwest section of the space. Some of the stones dated back to the early 19th century and the students said they wanted to do their part to preserve the history of the families buried there.
“It’s their last memory,” Arthur Cambridge, 16, said of the stones he helped to restore. “I want to make it perfect.”
Cambridge and his seven classmates worked with preservation and restoration experts to come up with a comprehensive method for the project. They used the cemetery’s archives, maps and tools to find the locations of tombstones that were either missing or covered up by earth.
Neela Wickremesinghe, the Green-Wood manager of restoration and preservation, said many of those stones didn’t have a foundation or a slab to keep them above ground. Some were as deep as four feet in the ground, she said.
“They sink because of the gravity and the changing area,” she explained.
Once the stones were located, the students used devices to lift them from their buried locations and gave them a deep clean. The students then placed them in their proper locations, but this time on top of slabs that will prevent them from sinking again.
“The goal of cleaning the stone was to make it legible for historical visitors,” said Jonathan Sutchen, 17, one of the students.
The group went beyond their restoration work, using the cemetery’s archives, the Brooklyn Public Library and ancestry.com to learn a tremendous amount about their subjects.
Cambridge said he was amazed that the individual he researched, Anna C. Pierce, died in her 20s.
“Usually, when you see a cemetery, you think that the people buried had a long life, but she was young,” he said.
The group’s work wasn’t limited to Green-Wood. The teens took trips to Staten Island cemeteries and helped do restoration work there in addition to a trip to the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan.
The internship program began at Green-Wood last year as part of a partnership between the city’s Department of Education, Green-Wood and the nonprofit group World Monuments Fund.
Frank Sanchis, the program manager at the nonprofit, said he hopes the program inspires more young people to pursue a career in restoration.
“There is no matching service where craftsman are trained in this,” he said. “Bottom line: We need more.”