Bequest gives cemetery new appearance

F or 30 years, John Carroll’s gravestone rested facedown in the grass of Our Lady of Angels Cemetery, unrecognized and unreadable. But thanks to a project by Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church, the sun once again shines upon the face of the 87-year-old stone.

Earlier this summer the church began to make a series of improvements to the approximately 100-year-old cemetery, which sits on a rolling hillside on County Route 18, just east of the village of Whitehall. Roads were improved, a new fence was installed, and hundreds of gravestones were repaired.

“There’s been quite a bit of work completed up here,” said Mike Putorti, who is a member of the church and was one of two men who hired to do most of the work. “It looks a lot better.”

Like many cemeteries of a similar age, years of constant excavation and the natural movement of the ground had caused the foundations of many of the gravestones to shift. Some toppled to the ground and others were deliberately placed there.

Putorti said two years ago a number of stones that were in danger of falling over were placed on their side. “We just couldn’t risk the liability of those stones falling over,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, the care and maintenance of each gravestone is the responsibility of the plot’s owner. But in some instances, the damaged stones are several decades old and the deceased’s family members no longer live in the area, or if the plot is several generations old, even aware of it.

When the stones were placed on their side two years ago, it was thought they would remain there until their owners had them repaired.

“Normally, we wouldn’t have to money to do this,” Putorti said.

But last fall, the church received an endowment of $82,290 from Ed Scott, a 1954 graduate of Whitehall High School, who left $822,000 to six nonprofit organizations in Whitehall upon his death last July.

“Father Flannery didn’t just want the money to sit in a bank and be used to pay bills,” Putorti said, “he wanted to do a project that we wouldn’t normally have been able to do.”

So Putorti and Jay Jillson began the arduous task of fixing the gravestones that had been tipped over.

The foundation of a number of larger stones were removed, the ground leveled, and new, level foundations poured and the stones placed upright.

Some of the stones that were repaired had been on the ground for 15 to 30 years, Putorti said.

Around 400 smaller stones were pulled out and placed in gravel so that the new footing would provide a more flexible base that stands up better to the movement of the ground.

There were also a number of improvements made to the cemetery’s roadways. The entrance and main thoroughfare was paved and new gravel was brought in to resurface the rest of the roads. Also, four new culverts were installed to improve drainage and limit erosion.

The most visible improvement was the installation of an aluminum fence that resembles rod iron. The cemetery had been without a fence since the previous one was removed six to eight years ago.

The remainder of the project, including the repair of one final section of gravestones, is expected to be completed next spring.

“It’s been nice to see,” said Putorti. “It makes you feel good. One of the rewards is seeing a stone that was tipped over for such a long time stand again.”

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