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The death care profession is more than just dealing with dead bodies, and we want to educate you about all the different career options you have in this field.

For the latest instalment of our ongoing series, Careers in Death Care: A Day in the Life, we caught up with Rachel Meyer to talk about what a gravestone conservator does and how her work preserves important cultural heritage that would otherwise be lost due to time or damage.

Rachel Meyer is a gravestone conservator who works in many of the earliest established burying grounds in Massachusetts. She has served as the gravestone conservator to the City of Salem cemetery department and currently co-runs Epoch Preservation with her partner, Joshua Gerloff. Their goal is to make gravestone conservation a fun and approachable topic by documenting their projects online and offering virtual workshops. You can also follow Rachel and Joshua’s fascinating work on Facebook and Instagram.


Careers in Death Care: A Day in the Life Series

Careers in Death Care – Your Career Options
A Day in the Life of a Gravestone Conservator

A Day in the Life of a Death Doula

A Day in the Life of an Embalmer
A Day in the Life of a Forensic Artist
A Day in the Life of a Funeral Director
A Day in the Life of a Funeral Celebrant
A Day in the Life of a Green Cemetery Director
A Day in the Life of a Hospice Physician

A Day in the Life of a Pathologist


Careers in Death Care: A Day in the Life of a Gravestone Conservator

Tell us about yourselves and what brought you to become gravestone conservators?

I am an appreciator of nature and art. I also really enjoy genealogy and listening to people tell me about their family history. I enjoy discovering lost places.

I originally got into gravestone conservation after finding a neglected and abandoned burying ground in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was a real jungle with most of its gravestones broken. People often partied there and had even turned some of the graves into fire pits. I had been working at a nearby museum, and recognized many of the names on the stones. I thought, “We put so much energy into preserving old houses, but no energy into saving burying places.”




So, I put a group together that was dedicated to saving the burying ground in Gloucester and getting the necessary training to repair the stones.  Everyone in town we spoke to said it couldn’t be done, but our backgrounds in museum work, community organizing, and landscaping were exactly what that place needed.

What inspired you to become a gravestone conservator?

The idea that someone would go into a museum and damage a work of art and just leave it that way would be unimaginable. Gravestones are some of the only examples of early American stone carving we have left in this area. The idea of that artistry being overlooked when it is such a pivotal element artistically and culturally… Well, I had to put a stop to that. I really enjoy showing people this accessible and beautiful part of our local culture.

 Working in old burying grounds is a way for us to discover history and art and involve the community. 

What is the biggest misconception about gravestone conservation?

The biggest misconception is that it is morbid or that people who work in cemeteries are morbid. We love nature, we love community. Working in old burying grounds is a way for us to discover history and art and involve the community. It is really a beautiful pursuit. We spend a lot more time thinking about the lives of the people buried there and how they shaped the communities that we would all ultimately inherit than anything else.

Run us through a typical day as a gravestone conservator.

There are many tools involved, which means Josh spends a good amount of time packing and unpacking the truck. That is the not-so-glamorous part. But once we are on-site, we really don’t know what we will discover as we start looking around for missing fragments or digging for bases. We are prepared for whatever we do find, but the most challenging part of gravestone conservation is happening under the dirt.

Will we find missing pieces? Does it need a base? Will we find unrelated missing gravestones while looking for fragments? Will we find grave goods? Did the carver practice his craft on the lower part of the stone that is usually underground? We really don’t know until we get to work, which is what makes it interesting. I try to bring people along on that journey of discovery through social media and sometimes also on-site.

What was one of the hardest days you encountered as a gravestone conservator?

When I worked in Salem, I saw the way visitors repeatedly overran Charter Street Cemetery and the effects that had on the longevity of the repairs that past conservators worked so hard on. That was always a really difficult situation. Salem is a popular destination in October, and the cemetery could have thousands of visitors a day—more than some sites get in their whole life!




Rules are hard to enforce and the situation often hits a breaking point, especially on weekends. Some people would be drunk or climb on stones and ask us if Charter Street was a real cemetery. My entire purpose is to preserve these stones, so it was rough. On a brighter note though, in collaboration with the city of Salem, they are turning one of the houses onsite into a visitor’s center, which will help teach people how to respect the stones.

What was one of the most memorable days youve had as a gravestone conservator?

The most memorable day was when we were working at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead Cemetery last year, the only known burial site of anyone convicted of witchcraft during the Salem trials. We started digging around the bases of the stones and discovered missing foot stone after missing foot stone that had been stored with non-corresponding headstones throughout the site. We will be there again starting next week, and I am looking forward to what we might find during this year’s repairs.

 My ancestor, Susannah North Martin, was hanged on the same day as Rebecca Nurse at Gallows Hill. Every day that I get to work here and work on my own ancestry, it’s an honor. 

Days like this underline that there is a kind of access that we have as stone conservators to this history that other people don’t have. The average person isn’t going to find a lost stone. When I find something that’s been lost for one-hundred years and was meant to be seen, I feel special, lucky, and privileged to this history. My ancestor, Susannah North Martin, was hanged on the same day as Rebecca Nurse at Gallows Hill. Every day that I get to work here and work on my own ancestry, it’s an honor. It’s like you’re carrying a torch. I have been able to create a career full of discovering things like this every day, and sometimes it just blows my mind. These stones are precious, you just can’t replace them.

How can someone interested in becoming a gravestone conservator start the process?

Few people start their careers in stone work. Most people who I know who enter this field got into it because they came across an abandoned site, much like I did. There are more graveyards that need help than people who are currently able to do that kind of work.

For those who are interested, the first thing I always suggest is joining the Association for Gravestone Studies. We are members. It depends on how much of a commitment they want to make when it comes to taking classes or participating in workshops. No matter what though, education is required in proper methods and materials. AGS is a great place to start.

What type of education or training do you need to become a gravestone conservator?

People from all kinds of backgrounds get into this field and there isn’t one way to get into it. You can take courses in conservation. You can also learn most of the skills you need by attending workshops with well-respected conservators and being part of trade groups that discuss new methods. It is very important that whatever educational path you take, those teaching you conform to the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic preservation.

What advice would you give to someone starting out as a gravestone conservator, or interested in becoming a gravestone conservator?

Document your work, and make sure future conservators can find those documents!  If you’re just starting out, find a good teacher who will teach you how to do this. So often, I have been left wondering about the reasoning for why someone did what they did to a gravestone I am working on. There are many people out there repairing stones without properly documenting what they did and how they did it. That is very valuable information for people to have.

At Epoch Preservation, we are very thorough and take a lot of pride in how detail-oriented we are. We use an app to track things like stone measurements and take lots of photographs so that people in the future know what the problems were and what we did. I can understand that it’s not as exciting to do the paperwork as it is to restore the stone, but it’s just as important.


Careers in Death Care: A Day in the Life Series

Careers in Death Care – Your Career Options
A Day in the Life of a Gravestone Conservator

A Day in the Life of a Death Doula

A Day in the Life of an Embalmer
A Day in the Life of a Forensic Artist
A Day in the Life of a Funeral Director
A Day in the Life of a Funeral Celebrant
A Day in the Life of a Green Cemetery Director
A Day in the Life of a Hospice Physician

A Day in the Life of a Pathologist


Do you currently work in the end-of-life industry? Would you like to be featured in a future Careers in Death Care: A Day in the Life article? Please contact us with your job title and tell us about your experience in the industry!

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