Webster Thomas NHS students help preserve Webster’s history

9 May

Gravestones belonging to many of Webster’s earliest settlers got a little TLC last weekend, thanks to several Webster Thomas High School National Honor Society (NHS) students.

Thomas seniors Ella Esders, Adam Zlotkus and Mya Cacciotti, assisted by their friends Gary Weiss and Allison Peterson, spent a few hours last Saturday morning at Webster Union Cemetery getting down and dirty — and wet — removing years of moss, lichen and built-up dirt from 17 headstones.

The effort was part of a project required of all second-year NHS students. The project must be something that benefits the local community, and students are encouraged to design it around something they’re passionate about. They have to develop a plan, get it approved with the group’s faculty advisor, and once it’s been completed, create a video slideshow to be presented at an NHS meeting.

Last year, Ella, Adam and Mya helped with a friend’s second-year project, repairing headstones at Webster Rural Cemetery. That experience inspired them to head back into a cemetery for their own project.

The students were guided by Cherie Wood, Webster Union Cemetery Historian, who demonstrated and explained the many-step process involved in carefully removing moss, lichen and dirt from the delicate headstones. As they scrubbed and sprayed, Wood also gave them a bonus history lesson, telling them stories about Webster’s early history and its founding families, and introduced them to some of our former town leaders and two Revolutionary War Patriots.

The students were especially intrigued to learn more about the many headstone symbols they saw. Wood explained that in the 1700s and 1800s, symbols placed on the stones were a kind of code about that person. One child’s headstone, for example, was decorated with a plant with four leaves, a drooping rose in full bloom, and a rosebud cut off. The rose represented the grieving mother. Each leaf was a child, and the missing rosebud was a child under 10 who had died. The circle surrounding them all represented eternity.  

The students worked nonstop for two and a half hours. Despite the hard, messy work required under a pretty warm sun, every single one of them characterized the job as “fun.” And the importance of what they were doing wasn’t lost on them.

“It’s a nice day in the sun with our friends,” Ella said, “learning about the historical value of this and also preserving the memory of these people.”

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(posted 5/9/2023)

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