By Donna Thornton/News Editor
May is the month of memory – when cemeteries have traditional days of decoration, when the graves are tended and flowers are placed in honor of those who’ve gone before us.
But sometimes, especially with graves of those long-gone more than weeding and scrubbing of stones is needed. Actual repair work is required.
George White likes to fix things. When the Emma Sansom monument lost a finger, White figured out a way to replace it and he did – twice.
That led Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton to call White about possibly repairing a 122-year-old monument in Forrest Cemetery, damaged by a falling tree limb in November 2011.
The monument, in the oldest part of the cemetery, marks the grave of Miles A. Hughes, son of Gabriel Hughes, one of the three founders of Gadsden.
The monument has five sections and stands eight-feet tall. The falling limb left at least three sections of the monument on the ground.
White – who is president of the Board of Trustees at Forrest Cemetery — agreed to try to make the repairs. He used some of the same process as with the Emma Sansom monument. He had to get a piece of matching marble – Italian marble, for Emma’s finger, the more common Georgia marble for the Hughes monument – and make a blank, a pattern to use to shape the replacement piece.
With the statue, White said the city arranged for him to go up in a bucket truck and examine the statue to get the proportions for the finger. He outlined his own finger to make a blank and shaped the marble into the right form.
Working with marble requires diamond-coated tools for drilling and shaping, White said. To attach the finger, he drilled into the hand where the finger would be placed and into the finger itself, then joined them with an aluminum pin, he said, and two-part stone epoxy.
White said the finger wouldn’t have stayed in place with just epoxy.
The monument located in the Hughes family lot in Section 1 Block 1 of the cemetery, was a tougher job. A jagged chunk was broken off the part of the monument where the inscription was, and on a round pedestal section of the monument, a portion was broken off on one side by the falling limb, and there was old damage on the other side of the circular stone.
“I got a piece of cardboard and drew the curve,” White said, from the undamaged side of the stone so that he could get the proper arc when making a replacement piece. The breaks to the monument were jagged, he said, and had to be ground down smooth to make the repairs.
Using his own diamond-coated tools, White carved the marble and squared off the portion of the rim by the falling limb, and the areas with older damage. He carved a replacement piece out of Georgia marble and installed it using two part stone epoxy and stainless steel pins.
The inscription section, was raised with wooden shims, then reset using setting cushions – one-inc square, one-eighth-inch thick pieces of PVC which allowed the reset reset sections of the monument to level properly onto setting compound. The setting compound sealed the joints between sections to keep out moisture. The round section was installed using the same procedure, White said.
To place the tall column of the monument, Gene Handy brought in a motor hoist to lift the section and worked with White to place the column on the round section. A stainless steel pin was used to join the sections, along with setting cushions and epoxy to complete the repair. Jeff Tucker provided invaluable assistance in the project, White added.
Other chips and scuffs in the monument were repaired as well.
White also worked on a couple of other monuments in Forrest Cemetery, repairing a cross that had broken off the Duncan Monument, and the arm that had broken off the Gasser monument.
In a place thick with monuments to past lives, White is pleased to have worked to help make those monuments to their memories intact once again.