INDIANAPOLIS -- Betty Baldwin's jaw dropped when she
visited Newby Cemetery last summer.
After a report from her cousin two years ago, she
envisioned the 19th-century graves of her relatives crumbling and
covered by overgrown weeds and brush. What she saw was a pristine
graveyard at 79th Street and Spring Mill Road that had been restored
by John "Walt" Walters.
"Newby is my maiden name, and my fourth
great-grandfather deeded the property to the county in 1851," the
Monroe, Wash., resident said. "My cousin found it overgrown. When we
went back -- to both our surprise, amazement and delight -- the
place had been cleaned up. The before-and-after pictures are just
Born in Nora in 1928, Baldwin was delighted to find 26
legible stones bearing the names of relatives she is still placing
in her family tree.
Newby is one of six abandoned cemeteries in Washington
Township. Others include Bacon, Crows Nest, Deford, Ebenezer
Lutheran and Fall Creek Union.
They have been neglected for decades, and upkeep is
part of the trustee's job description. An article in the June 19,
1974, issue of The Nora Topics described the decay, but nothing was
done until trustee Gwen Horth initiated a project to restore them to
their original beauty two and a half years ago.
"When you see the stones, you think at one point these
people meant something to somebody," Horth said. "This is bringing
Many veterans, including John and William Deford who
fought in the Civil War, were lain to rest in the township. After
attending a conference and seeing Walters' work three years ago,
Horth hired Graveyard Groomers for the task of refurbishing more
than 1,000 headstones. She budgeted $30,000 a year for the
"It's an expensive project, but it's an important
project," she said. "It's a labor of love. I don't think just any
guy could do this."
Walters, who has been described as a dead ringer for a
ZZ Top band member or a biker, puts his passion for history and
stone carving into the work.
"It's history and artwork by the stone carvers,"
Walters said "It's real rewarding just saving the history."
Five of the six sites are refurbished, and work will
begin this spring on Crows Nest.
Ebenezer and Fall Creek sit side by side. Headstones
in the two largest abandoned cemeteries were broken from their
bases, others were in multiple pieces and thrown over a ravine while
more were sunken into the ground.
"Things have been moved, but there is always a clue
left behind," Walters said. "It's like detective work or a big
Ammonia and water solution clean up the stones, and
Walters adheres pieces back together onsite or in his garage
workshop. To find the buried stones, he uses a metal rod to tap
underground. A simple lever-and-pulley system on a tripod hoists
large stones back onto their bases. A gravestone can take anywhere
from two to 28 hours to repair.
"You want to do the least disturbance to the site as
possible," he explained. "I start cleaning with a brush, using the
gentlest means possible."
Bob Alloway of Indianapolis has kin buried in Ebenezer
and enjoys genealogy as a hobby. While visiting, he ran into Walters
cleaning up the site.
"He (Walters) can make a broken cemetery look
seamless," Alloway said. "Can you imagine going to Ebenezer, a
150-year-old cemetery and it looks brand new? It was covered in
poison ivy from one end to the other. It's like a living-history
Alloway is writing a book to give to the state library
and helped Baldwin erect a sign marking the Newby Cemetery.
Through research of her grandfather's family, Marilyn
Barber of Danville, Ind., discovered most of her ancestors
originally from Maryland are buried in Ebenezer.
"Losing these cemeteries is losing our past and our
history," she said, echoing Walters. "Personally, it would be losing
a lot of my family. I have found so many new cousins who were also
descendents of the families buried there."
Angela Tielking's interest in pioneer cemeteries
sprouted when she discovered the neglected grave of her
great-great-great-great-grandmother about four years ago in Hancock
"I am interested in all of our cemeteries, not just
the ones where my family is buried," she said. "I wanted to thank
her (Horth) for restoring the cemeteries and restoring them
correctly. This is important for the whole state of Indiana. These
cemeteries are our families and ancestors, and they are our history
and heritage. We must care for them and protect them, or we will
Most of the genealogical information has been lost,
but Horth is working with two Boy Scout troops on a project in which
they would go through the cemeteries, writing down the names of
people buried their so the township could post it on its Web