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Galesburg Group Working to Restore Historic Cemetery

T.J. Carson
A large fallen tree branch sits above several monuments in Hope Cemetery. Heather Dickson says it was a lucky break the branch didn't break any grave markers.

George Washington Gale is one of Galesburg's most important historical figures. He founded the city and Knox College in 1837. And one year before that, Gale founded the location that would be his final resting place, Hope Cemetery.

Over the past 181 years, the cemetery has seen its share of wear and tear. Tree branches rot out from the inside and fall to the ground below, weather and vandals knock over monuments, and the elements build up on grave markers to the point where it's hard to tell who exactly is buried in a particular spot.

Heather Dickson wanted to do something about it.

"I’m from California, and we don’t have cemeteries this beautiful. And when I got here, this was one of the first places I took my kids because it was so unique looking to me," Dickson said.

Through a friendship with Hope Cemetery board member Rex Cherrington, Dickson started the volunteer group "Friends of Hope Cemetery." The group has met twice so far this year.

The volunteers do a wide range of tasks during their cleanup days. Some rake the grounds and others cut tree branches to help carry them away.

Another task is cleaning the monuments. Dickson says most of the monuments can't be scrubbed with a brush because it would ruin the smooth finish. So the group uses a cleaning product called Wet and Forget to remove build up and moss. It's sprayed on to the surface and left there, then washed away with water or rain to clean the surface.

Credit T.J. Carson
This obelisk is the monument at the grave site of George Washington Gale. The build up over the years has left the letters and numbers almost unreadable.

"Over time with the rain and with the weather, that actually helps it to do its job," Dickson said.

Dickson said it's a lengthy process to use Wet and Forget. She said it could take a few months or years to completely clean a surface with it.

The stronger volunteers help out with the job of fixing broken monuments. Dickson said that's because the fallen parts have been embedded in the ground, and need multiple people or a truck to pick them back up. She said the broken parts are then fixed by replacing or installing new steel pins to hold them in place.

Dickson said the work to fix up Hope Cemetery is an on-going process. But she feels it's worth it because the history within the grounds is a hidden gem in Galesburg.

"People in Galesburg just seem to flourish. They seem to do good things, they go on to do amazing things. And Galesburg has a far reach. Even today it does. And back then, it certainly did. And I don't think a lot of the people here know that," Dickson said.

Rex Cherrington concurred. He said restoring the cemetery shows visitors that Galesburg values its traditions and history.