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Cemeterians preserve history by cleaning local headstones

Posted at 3:23 PM, Aug 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 16:23:15-04

A cemetery is full of history and a local group wants to make sure the details of the past are preserved.

Rex Melius is the leader of the Cemeterians, and over the last 5 years, he’s gotten pretty good at making headstones look like new.

“Water is your best friend,” he says. “Always wet the stone first.”

Learning the skill started with a personal project.

“I visited my mother’s grave about five years ago and it was full of lichen,” he recalls.

So, Rex reached out to see what could be done to clean up her headstone.

“And from there, it took off. Five years later, we’re up to 2,800 followers worldwide.”

These days, the Cemeterians get calls from all over – asking for advice or for someone to come by to clean and repair an old memory.

“Everybody had a life at one time, whether it was a day or a month or a year or a lifetime,” Rex says. “We feel that they are all worth preserving.”

Rex and his team spend time re-leveling headstones. They repair cracks and scrub out dirt.

“Gotta use a little muscle and elbow grease!” he says.

To kill this lichen – a crusty, slow-growing plant – Rex uses a chemical mixture.

“Which is not only safe for us to use, it’s safe for the environment," he adds.

When you first spray it on, that cleaner leaves an orange tint. But soon, it’ll turn white just like when it was first placed.

“Some of the stones can cure within a week,” Rex says.

It’s certainly a lot of hard work. But Rex has learned about founding families, community tragedies, and veterans’ war heroism.

“We feel that’s all part of the history of the community, and it should be remembered.”

Rex and the Cemeterians work all over the Milwaukee area. Their schedule is pretty full this summer, but you can reach out to them on Facebook if you’d like to request a headstone cleaning. The team does it all for free.

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