From dirt-covered to dignified: Niagara County woman finds purpose in restoring headstones

Local News

WHEATFIELD, N.Y. – A Niagara County woman has found peace and purpose in beautifying local cemeteries.

Laura Prosser-McCabe felt a calling to make headstones like-new again, in an effort to make sure they’re remembered and respected even 100 years later.

At Wheatfield Cemetery on Mapleton Road, it’s her labor of love.

Century-old headstones are weathered and covered in lichen. Several of them belong to Civil War and World War I soldiers. The weathering can make them difficult to read, and therefore difficult to remember.

That wasn’t okay with Prosser-McCabe.

“I feel that something needs to be done about it,” she said.

A before & after example of Laura Prosser-McCabe’s work.

Prosser-McCabe explained that she used to be married to a serviceman, and that during that marriage, she developed a profound respect for the military, people who serve, and veterans.

Now, Laura has been restoring headstones for several months. She started in Lockport, then came to Wheatfield after the president of the cemetery gave her permission to beautify only the oldest stones.

Many date back to the mid-1800s.

The work gives her purpose, and she finds it very rewarding. Often, a stone’s name leads her to doing research and finding out about that person’s life and story.

“It is profound how they give their life and their time, and I’m a history buff,” she said.

The process is one Laura makes sure is safe and doesn’t damage the stones.

Laura wets the stone gently with water, then scrapes the lichen off with plastic, never metal.

After that, she sprays the stone with a special solution that brightens and helps loosen tougher grime, and she follows that by brushing the stone with a soft bristle brush until the stone is clear

The grand finale is washing it all off and admiring a like-new stone, with that person’s name, respect, and his or her place in history restored.

“When I walk through these cemeteries, and I see a stone that looks as though these men and women never existed, that does not sit right with me,” she said.

This work goes a little beyond the sites of those who served.

Laura also feels compelled to bring back dignity to the sites of those who died tragically.

The mother of a teenager, Laura felt heartbroken to learn the history of Sarah Mumford, a girl who was adopted to work and then murdered at 16.

It was another case of Laura spotted a rather neglected stone that had only Sarah’s name and nothing else, and that prompted Laura to learn more. Now, she’s working on securing permission to add the dates to Sarah Mumford’s stone.

“I’m going to go as far as saying this one changed my life. This child will never have a day in this cemetery again where she does not have a beautiful spot,” she said.

Laura works on her own right now, but she’s leaning toward opening a bank account in the near future so that people interested in helping can fund supplies.

She also hopes to gather interested people a few times throughout the year to show others how the work is done.

Erica Brecher is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.

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