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Men work to right Mt. Pleasant girl's gravestone

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 6:34 p.m.
A.J. Panian | The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Rick Meason, president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society, kneels recently in the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery before the fallen gravestone of the late Carrie J. Shupe, who died at age 4 in 1873. Meason is working to right the marker with Acme’s Aaron Wolk, a society member and distribution manager for Cathedral Stone Products.
A.J. Panian | The Mt. Pleasant Journal
The fallen gravestone of the late Carrie J. Shupe (foreground), who died at age 4 in 1873, lays next to those of the other members of her family, including her sister Sadie Olive Shupe, 1880-1894; her mother Sarah (Dick) Shupe, 1842-1912; and her father Oliver P. Shupe, 1843-1918. Rick Meason, president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society, looks on in the background.

Sitting silent and still for more than a century, some of the older headstones at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery are all that remain to speak for many of those buried beneath.

“There's nobody that's going to come along for these people. All of their descendants are gone, too,” said Rick Meason, president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society.

Those at rest there range from children who died tragically in their youth to individuals who lived long lives and helped establish the foundation of what the borough is today, Meason said.

“These were the people who built this town; our forefathers, if you will, and these headstones are the last vestiges of evidence that they even existed,” he said.

And the foundations of far too many of these sacred stones have given way to the slow passage of time and the elements, Meason said.

As a result, more than a handful of the markers, varying in size from smaller, tablet-shaped stones to hulking monuments weighing thousands of pounds, have either fallen completely off their bases or are tenuously teetering, he said.

“Not only is it unsightly, in some cases, it's dangerous,” Meason said. “I want to start a project that will allow us to fix these monuments before it is too late.”

Family's history helps inspire initiative

During his multiple turns through borough's burial ground, Meason was struck by the state of disrepair of the gravestone for Carrie J. Shupe, who was only about 4 years old when she died in 1873.

Carrie's father was the late Oliver Perry Shupe, whose ancestors helped settle Mt. Pleasant in the 1700s, Meason said.

The girl is buried in a row with her father, who died in 1918 at age 75; her mother, Sarah (Dick) Shupe, who died in 1912 at age 70; and her sister, Sadie Olive Shupe, who died in 1894 at the tender age of 14.

Only Carrie's gravestone has fallen among her family members' markers.

“Now her headstone is lying face down in the mud,” Meason said.

And that did not sit well with Meason, considering his position and the Shupe family's historical relevance locally.

Oliver's grandfather, Isaac Shupe, was a successful businessman who was engaged in farming, milling, tanning and the mercantile business, Meason said.

He also owned several sawmills and operated a large freighting business, which sent teams as far as Baltimore, Wheeling and Pittsburgh, he said.

In 1845, Isaac and Oliver's father, Daniel Shupe, built a large, steam-powered grist mill and distillery on Main Street, which still stands today as Pritts' Feed Mill.

Daniel Shupe took over the operation after Issac's death in 1847, Meason said, and took Oliver under his wing and made him its superintendent at age 21.

After Daniel's death, Oliver purchased the mill and hired a contractor named George Washington Bollinger to convert the mill to the first Hungarian roller-process flour mill in Western Pennsylvania, Meason said.

In his time, Oliver Shupe also served as a member and treasurer for the Mt. Pleasant Township school board, Meason said.

Eventually, Shupe's residential neighborhood became the borough's 3rd Ward, and Oliver then became a member of borough council, he said.

In addition, he served as director of the Mt. Pleasant branch of the B&O Railroad, was vice president of the Citizens Savings and Trust Co., and was largely instrumental in securing the charter for the Mt. Pleasant Water Co., Meason said.

On July 9, 1863, Oliver enlisted as a sergeant in Capt. William B. Dick's Independent Calvary during the Civil War, he said.

Later that year, Oliver married Sarah, Capt. Dick's daughter, and the couple had six children in all, Meason said.

They built the mansion next to the mill on the borough's Main Street, which is now known as Brown's Candy Kitchen, he said.

But their lives were not without tragedy, as they lost both Carrie and Sadie at such young ages, Meason said.

The couple's grief eventually compelled them to erect a large monument which today overlooks the family's burial plot.

“The monument that was placed in her honor is what got me into history,” he said.

Stonemason steps up to aid effort

Acme's Aaron Wolk first learned of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society by accessing its Facebook page.

Soon after, Wolk, distribution manager of Cathedral Stone Products, joined the society and has lent a hand to Meason on several projects.

“I tell Rick whenever he needs me, just to let me know,” he said.

With that in mind, Wolk has agreed to restore Carrie Shupe's fallen headstone to its original state, free of charge, Meason said.

“Aaron has worked on stones in cemeteries from Arlington to California,” he said. “Now he is in Ohio working on a monument to President William McKinley; he's very good at what he does, he's very knowledgeable.”

Meason said he hopes Wolk's involvement will bring awareness to the pervasive trend of fallen headstones at the cemetery elsewhere.

Jason Church, materials conservator for the National Center for Preservation and Technology Training based in Natchitoches, La., travels just helped host the International Cemetery Preservation Summit in April in Niagara Falls, N.Y., he said.

The event is one of many Church and his collegues at the center conduct to teach residents of small towns across America about the importance of maintaining their cemeteries.

“Every community has a small cemetery, and a lot of them have dozens of them, either on someone's property or on the back 40 of someone's farm,” Church said. “The headstones on these grounds are definitely falling, sinking, being lost to time and lost to vandalism, so we need everybody to do what they can to maintain them and make sure they are properly preserved.”

For the local project, Wolk said, he plans to follow guidelines of headstone care and cleaning as defined by the federal National Park Service and the Department of the Interior.

“We will be following the procedures outlined to ensure the stone is cleaned and re-set on its base,” Wolk said.

Currently, a fair amount of lichen and other biological growth have accumulated on the stone, which holds in moisture and causes the marble to deteriorate, he said.

“We will not be restoring the stone back to original, but we will attempt to get a rubbing from the face for archival purpose,” Wolk said.

The entire restoration process will be documented, he added.

“When finished, the documentation will be turned over to Rick so that he can use it as he sees fit,” Wolk said. “I hope I can help Rick raise awareness to the rich history that surrounds us and the need to maintain both artifacts and structures. With some community support we can literally save our history.”

Helping hands are sought area-wide

Considering the fact that maintenance of cemetery monuments requires a good deal of money, Meason said, he hopes the efforts of he and Wolk to save Carrie Shupe's gravestone make an impact.

“If we can show what we can do with her stone, maybe more people will be willing to offer a hand with funding. We have the people to do this project, we just need the funding to be able to continue to do this kind of work,” he said. “I am hoping that we can set up a fund to help with the cost of repairs, which in some cases will be a great deal of money, but if we can get enough money to fix at least one or two of these old monuments then I count this project a success.”

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or apanian@tribweb.com.