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'It’s a sign of respect': Man in Michigan spends free time cleaning old gravestones

cleaning gravestones
Posted at 11:27 AM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 11:27:51-04

ST. JOHNS, Mich. — During the pandemic, thousands took up new hobbies like baking bread, reading or knitting.

Michael Pohl decided on a unique hobby that's a lot closer to death — cleaning the many century-old gravestones at Mt. Rest Cemetery in St. Johns.

It's a hobby that pays respect in a unique way to those who have died.

He says picked up the hobby to stay busy.

“I’m a line cook at the Wheel Inn," Pohl said. "I keep getting laid off because of COVID, so I found a little hobby in doing this.”

Cleaning gravestones in Mt. Rest Cemetery in St. Johns
Michael Pohl picked up the hobby of cleaning old gravestones during the pandemic.

Pohl says he took up the hobby not because anyone asked him to, but because he wanted to.

"Nobody’s asked me to do this. I kind of just walk around and pick one," he said.

He says got the idea from his other hobbies over the years.

“I like to restore things, so this just came about,” Pohl said.

After a bit of research, Pohl found that the only chemical that can be used to clean the stones is D/2 — a stain remover specifically made for mold, mildew, algae, lichens and air pollutants. It contains no bleach, salts or acids so it won't damage the stones or the grass around them.

Pohl then called up the cemetery for permission and got to work.

Cleaning gravestones in Mt. Rest Cemetery in St. Johns
Pohl said he's cleaned gravestones of all sizes, but the bigger onces can take an entire day to clean.

Pohl said he can do about four average-sized stones a day, but the bigger ones could take all day.

“All the moss was just buried in there and didn’t want to come out,” Pohl said.

Cleaning supplies used for cleaning gravestones
Pohl uses soft bristle brushes, D/2 cleaner and water to clean off each stone.

He says he's found gravestones dating back to 1870 and 1855 during his work.

Oldest gravestone found so far
When cleaning on Tuesday, Pohl revealed a gravestone from 1855.

Pohl said he keeps going because uncovering what's underneath the years of build-up is rewarding.

“It’s a sign of respect," he said. "It's really gratifying being able to read something you haven't been able to read for years and years and years and years."

Cleaning gravestones in Mt. Rest Cemetery in St. Johns
Michael Pohl picked up a new, unique hobby during the pandemic that honors the dearly departed.

This story was originally published by Mikayla Temple on Scripps station WSYM in Lansing, Michigan.