Volunteers work to restore historical cemetery

Volunteers have repaired and reinstalled 12 headstones

By Jim Totten
Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (Howell)

BRIGHTON, Mich. (AP) — The headstone had fallen over, broken into pieces and partially sunk into the ground.

What details were disclosed about the deceased Brighton woman appeared close to disappearing if not for the work of some local volunteers. They picked up the pieces, cleaned them, and used epoxy and concrete to reattach the pieces and restore the headstone.

On a recent Tuesday, four volunteers reinstalled Lydia Prosser’s headstone at Brighton’s Old Village Cemetery, next to the Mill Pond. She died Sept. 15, 1869; she was 65 years old.

“I enjoy bringing history to life, so to speak,” Don Thomas told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus of Howell.

The retired Lutheran pastor said it’s about “doing honor to all of the people who are buried here.”

Thomas, 80, grew up in Brighton, moved away to work at churches and returned to Brighton for his retirement. He installed anchors to hold the headstone together and experimented with concrete mixtures to find one that gave him time to inscribe information in the headstone.

Jim Vichich, president of the Brighton Area Historical Society, said volunteers have repaired and reinstalled 12 headstones. He said there are about 125 headstones laying on the ground, and it will take about 12 to 15 years to fix all of them.

All the work is being done by volunteers, and the Historical Society pays for all the materials.

“It was laying on the ground, all busted to hell,” Vichich said about Prosser’s headstone.

He said the Historical Society’s goal is to take care of the whole cemetery. Although the property is owned by the city of Brighton, he knows the city is struggling financially.

“We know the financial situation of the city; we’re trying to be responsible,” Vichich said.

He said the last burials there occurred in the early 1900s, when the cemetery became full. The city then purchased property for the Fairview Cemetery. A majority of the headstones date back to the 1800s.

“As I got older, I got more interested in history,” Joe Collins said.

He helped lift the headstone back into a new, concrete base.

His great-grandfather moved to Brighton in the 1860s, and Collins was born and grew up in Brighton.

Seeing the headstones placed upright makes him feel good.

“I think it’s why we do it,” Collins said.

The Historical Society has spent several years removing brush and vegetation that hid the cemetery from view, and it’s now working to fix broken gravestones and straightening up those that are falling down. Vichich said some of the gravestones were damaged by vandals, but many are leaning simply due to the thawing and freezing of the ground.

Volunteer Bob Knight, a retired mechanical engineer, said he enjoys masonry work. He also likes restoring some honor to the cemetery.

“When you walk in the gate and see all these headstones standing straight, it makes us feel good,” he said. “It’s just something that should be done to honor the dead.”