- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - Underneath a film of dirt and grime, the name etched into the forgotten gravestone became clearer as a group of high school students scrubbed at it.

Sarah, daughter of W.H. and E. Bryan. Died Feb. 13, 1864. Aged 10 years and one month.

The headstone was one of several in Pierce Cemetery that Harrison High School students cleaned and repaired last week as part of a project for an advanced placement U.S. history class.

“These were in pretty bad shape when we started,” said junior Hanna Weil as she cleaned a stone belonging to William Pierce, who died in 1849 at age 59. “It’s pretty rewarding work when you see the graves cleaned up.”

Their teacher, Ashley Greeley, conceived the idea when she brought some of her students to place flags at gravestones in Greenbush Cemetery, which is in the process of being restored.

“As a teacher, you kind of have these ‘a-ha’ moments where it just hits you,” Greeley said, noting she had wanted to do a project related to the state’s bicentennial.

Pierce Cemetery was a perfect candidate - it’s tucked away behind Harrison High School and was in bad shape, with headstones fallen over, broken and dirty. The cemetery also is rich in history, as it holds some of the area’s first residents and soldiers from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Greeley got in touch with local cemetery experts L.A. Clugh and Shane Weist, who won national awards for their work at Greenbush, to help with the assignment.

Clugh, a genealogist with the Tippecanoe County Historical Association, taught the students how to research people buried in the cemetery and trace their family history.

“It’s really fun bringing all the pieces together,” she said. “It’s all puzzle work - putting tombstones back together, putting family lines back together.”

After the research was complete, Weist taught the students how to properly care for the headstones. He’s been working side by side with the kids this week to clean and reset fallen stones.

“They’re in very bad shape and a lot of them have been pushed over by high school kids over time,” said Weist, who has worked on Greenbush Cemetery for the past two years.

Pierce Cemetery holds 318 documented people, Weist said, but there’s many more unrecorded.

One group of students unearthed and cleaned two headstones that were face down in the ground, Greeley said.

“Those people now have an identity. No one would have known they were there,” she said.

Learning the history of local figures who were buried in the school’s backyard was junior Tyler Smith’s favorite part of the project, along with cleaning up the years of mold and mildew on the tombstones.

Greeley is hopeful the students will remember the lessons they learned in the cemetery in their future history classes.

“We lose sight that anyone we study is a person with a family,” she said. “I hope that’s something that stays with them.”

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Source: Lafayette Journal & Courier, https://on.jconline.com/1XoiDM5

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Information from: Journal and Courier, https://www.jconline.com

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