Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Grave Rubber

We're experiencing an early Indian Summer here in New York, with temperatures in the steamy 80's, and nary a breeze to be found. So while it looks like fall (the trees are turning orange), and sounds like fall (the acorns are falling), it actually feels more like mid-July. Of course you won't hear any complaints from me; I'm taking advantage of this Al Gore-esque heatwave by spending as much time as possible outside in the fresh air. Yesterday, inspired by the blue skies, chippering song birds, and warm, golden September sunlight, I did what every red-blooded American does when they have a free afternoon: I headed to the local graveyard. O.K., so maybe not every American chooses to spend their idle time with the dead, but I've always been intrigued by graveyards; to me they are outdoor museums where we can get a glimpse into the past and learn more about the history of both a community and an era. And it’s especially interesting to find a family plot, where you can trace the lives and losses of several generations, or, to discover a — whether intentionally or unintentionally — humorous epitaph.

So, yesterday I grabbed my butcher paper, charcoal, scissors, tape, and spray fixative, and made a beeline to the old Quaker cemetery near our home. I spent some time reading the inscriptions, and then rubbed several graves (that's rubbed, not robbed!), from the early 1800's, making sure I thanked the departed soul who's tombstone I was preserving along the way, as the last thing I need on a beautiful Indian Summer day, is an angry spirit on my case.

You'll need a roll of butcher paper, black chalk or charcoal, masking tape, and spray fixative (all available at crafts stores). And if you don't want to leave there looking like a coal miner, it's a good idea to bring along some wet naps, or, at the very least, paper towels. Make sure rubbings are permitted in the cemetery you are visiting; in some historic cemeteries, where headstones are very fragile, stone rubbing is banned.

Use common sense when choosing a headstone; do not attempt to rub any stone that is flaking, splitting, or unstable.

To get started, cut a length of butcher paper slightly longer than the area you will be rubbing, then gently secure it to the face of the stone with tape. Using the broadest part of your charcoal, rub across the face of the stone using long, sweeping strokes. When your rubbing is complete, spray the front of the paper with spray fixative (available at craft stores) to prevent smudging.

And before you leave, make sure you clean up any paper, tape, wetnaps...well, you get the idea.

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