How To Do Gravestone Rubbings
For those of us
who have a soft spot for cemetaries, and if its not too cold or snowy out, this is a very easy hobby requiring only a little more than patience, elbow grease and healthy knees.
a roll of white newsprint paper
fat kindergarten crayons
a roll of paper masking tape
scissors or a pen knife
A small, stiff brush for removing dirt or moss clinging to the stones is helpful as well as a small bag to store tape and crayon wrappers so youre not littering.
To rub a stone, first brush off any dirt and old moss. Then cut a piece of paper approximately six inches higher and wider than the face of the marker. This large margin serves several purposes. First it leaves you an uncolored area of the finished work, should you decide to mat it later. Also it provides you with an area on which to tape the paper to the stone that will not intersect with your work and damage it when you are finished. Finally and most important, it will keep your waxes from rubbing off onto the stone itself.
By taking this kind of care, you wont mark the stone in any way. Unfortunately, careless hobbyists have already vandalized so many stones, and littered so many yards with their uncollected paper scraps that several prominent sites have been ruled off limits to rubbers by rightfully unhappy custodians.
Once the paper is in place, rub the flat side of the crayon gently over the paper in large strokes. Quickly you will see the printing beginning to emerge on your paper. Then fill in areas with closer strokes and deepen the color. As long as your paper remains firmly fixed, you can rub the same area over and over until it becomes legible.
Some stones are so weatherbeaten that they will never give a clear image, but a few tests will soon give you the experience to judge those which may prove hopeless. Heavily incised designs do not produce a very clear image. Glossy granite and slate usually produce the clearest images; old marble the least.
Very old stones tend to sink into the earth. If you suddenly discover that you cant rub the bottom of the legend, brush away the grass and earth at the very base of the stone and keep rubbing. Usually you can pick up the balance of the words or frame of the design. This does mean that you will have to stretch out flat on the ground to complete the rubbing, but the results are worth it.
Before leaving a yard, check around for wrappers or waxes left lying on the ground, and for spare pieces of tape. Its always good to not be a slob and try to leave the cemetary in a little better shape than when you arrived.
The images on this page come from old New England gravestones. The imagery used ranges from Puritanical life, adjusting to a harsh climate in a new world to the Neoclassical motifs in the 1800s. A key to these symbols is included here
This valuable information came from The Center for Thanatology Research, which is run by a wonderful woman Roberta Halporn. She sells professional kits with archival papers and special rubbing waxes as well as maintains an extensive library devoted to thanatology and gravestone studies for the historian, geneologist and devotees of American folk art. You can call her for more information at 718-858-3026 or write and ask for a brochure at 391 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11217-1701. The website is still under construction.