Magic Mirror Cemetery Photography

Del­i­cacy

Ancient head­stones can never be replaced. They may be the only his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments remain­ing from that time and place. Many head­stones are so worn as to be com­pletely unread­able — or so they appear to the unaided eye! The “Magic Mir­ror” tech­nique throws the writ­ing into sharp relief. The words quite lit­er­ally jump out at you!

The Magic Mir­ror is a “green” tech­nique. It does not risk any harm to the head­stone. All we do is shine sun light across the face of the inscription!

These two pho­tographs are of the same head­stone! Can you see how the writ­ing appears and dis­ap­pears? This head­stone looked exactly the same to the naked eye. We needed the Magic Mir­ror to read the inscription.

The Blue ital­ics text are the photo descrip­tions. You can skip over the text to con­tinue read­ing this Magic Mir­ror Ceme­tery Pho­tog­ra­phy tuto­r­ial. Click on any of the pho­tographs to see it full size.

Mary F. Herring

Mary F. Herring

Gideon F. Herring

Gideon F. Herring

Left, Mary F. Her­ring: One of two pho­tos of the same head­stone, show­ing the “magic mir­ror” effect. In each photo, the high­lighted inscrip­tion is vis­i­ble and the other inscrip­tion is not. It is the same effect with the naked eye — we had to use the mir­ror to make out the writ­ing at all.

Right, Gideon F. Her­ring: Care­fully com­pare this photo to the “Mary F. Her­ring” photo of the same head­stone, to see the dra­matic dif­fer­ence the “magic mir­ror” makes in read­abil­ity. We use the mir­ror to shine sun­light ACROSS the face of the head­stone, caus­ing shad­ows in the barely-visible inscriptions.

“Both on same head­stone one above the other, Mary F., Born Aug 15 1848, died Aug 28, 1852. Gideon F., Born Dec. 19, 1852, died July 10, 1854. Chil­dren of G.H. and H.A. Her­ring. Brother and sis­ter. Mary F. Her­ring was a daugh­ter of George Wash­ing­ton Her­ring and Hes­ter Ann Kemp, grand­daugh­ter of John Her­ring and Lucy Carver, and, Wal­ter Kemp and Jerusha Key. She was my great grandAunt.”

The King­dom of Callaway

Please excuse me if I get too chatty in this lit­tle tuto­r­ial! I will take you along with me, to look over my shoul­der, as I show Magic Mir­ror exam­ples. I hope you enjoy the trip.
Wayne John­son of the King­dom of Call­away His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety arranged for us to visit numer­ous ceme­ter­ies on pri­vate land, and per­son­ally con­ducted us around the county. We soon real­ized that the War Between The States is always rel­e­vant to any his­tory within Call­away County.

If you stud­ied U.S. His­tory, you will recall that The Mis­souri Com­pro­mise of 1820 allowed Mis­souri to become a State of the Union in 1821. Mis­souri was a slave state, and specif­i­cally kept the bal­ance between Slave states and Free states. Years later, dur­ing the War Between The States (i.e., The Civil War), Mis­souri remained a Union state — it was never part of the south­ern Con­fed­er­acy. How­ever, the Southern-leaning res­i­dents of Call­away County refused to choose a side. Instead, they declared their inde­pen­dence and became a small kingdom.

Flag of the Kingdom of Callaway

Flag of the King­dom of Callaway

Eliza Carrington

Eliza Car­ring­ton

Flag of the King­dom of Call­away: Flag of the King­dom of Call­away County, flown dur­ing the head­stone ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony in Hill­crest Ceme­tery, Ful­ton, Call­away County, Mis­souri. Dur­ing the War Between the States, the State of Mis­souri did not secede from the Union. How­ever, Call­away County seceded on its own. It never returned, and con­sid­ers itself the sov­er­eign King­dom of Call­away County.

Eliza S. Her­ring Car­ring­ton: Eliza S. Car­ring­ton, born Eliza S. Her­ring, was born 1862, and died 1941. This photo looks like it is from the mid-1930s in Ful­ton, Call­away County, Mis­souri. She and Nathan Car­ring­ton had 11 chil­dren. The orig­i­nal photo is in the pos­ses­sion of her great granddaughter.

She and her hus­band, with sev­eral of their chil­dren, rest in Bur­dett Ceme­tery in Call­away County Missouri.

Wayne Johnson and Rex Carrington transcribing Nathan and Eliza Carringtons headstone

Wayne John­son and Rex Car­ring­ton tran­scrib­ing Nathan and Eliza Car­ring­tons headstone

Wayne Johnson pointing out the original Nathan Carrington headstone

Wayne John­son point­ing out the orig­i­nal Nathan Car­ring­ton headstone

Tran­scrib­ing the Head­stone: Wayne John­son, to the left kneel­ing, taught me the “magic mir­ror” tech­nique for bring­ing out the writ­ing on eroded head­stones. You can see the back side of his mir­ror, with a frame attached. He sets it up as an easel so that he can pho­to­graph the head­stone with­out assistance.

“Wayne John­son, Call­away Co. ceme­tery expert and Rex Car­ring­ton, tran­scrib­ing engrav­ing on stone.”

Show­ing Orig­i­nal Head­stone: Front view of the magic mir­ror. Wayne John­son point­ing out what is left of the orig­i­nal head­stone for Nathan Carrington.

This is the final rest­ing place of “Eliza S. Her­ring Car­ring­ton,” whose por­trait is above.

In the third photo above, Wayne John­son is kneel­ing, hold­ing his Magic Mir­ror. He con­structed a hinged “A frame” or easel for it out of plas­tic pipes. That way he can posi­tion it to stand on its own while he pho­tographs the head­stone. In the fourth photo above, you can see the Magic Mir­ror from the front.

Mak­ing The Magic Mirror

My own Magic Mir­ror is far less elab­o­rate — just a 12″ by 12″ square mir­ror tile left over from cre­at­ing a mir­ror wall in the house. Wayne can shine sun­light on the entire head­stone at once, whereas I usu­ally require sev­eral pho­tos to bring out the entire inscription.

My Cemetery Kit

My Ceme­tery Kit

The Magic Mirror

The Magic Mirror

My Ceme­tery Kit: Here is part of my ceme­tery kit. Left side, tick spray. Cen­ter, bot­tom to top, 12″ ruler for scale, the magic mir­ror, dows­ing rods, soil probe, sur­veyor flags, trow­els, car­ry­ing crate. Right side, green tape, pure corn starch with pad, contact-me note, bag­gies for note.

I make up small notes with my con­tact infor­ma­tion, say­ing basi­cally that if you are related to this per­son I would like to hear from you, place the note in the small plas­tic bag, and tape it to the back or base of the headstone.

The Magic Mir­ror: This is the “magic mir­ror” I use for bring­ing out head­stone engravings.

I made it from a 12″ x 12″ wall tile — the kind you glue to the wall to make a mir­rored wall. I backed it with card­board from a box, and edged it with duct tape. It has trav­eled well and seen use with thou­sands of head­stone photos.

Magic Mirror in Use

Magic Mir­ror in Use

Head­stone photo show­ing “magic mir­ror” in use: It is shin­ing sun­light trans­ver­sally across the writ­ing, that is, directly across the face of the head­stone. You can see how the main writ­ing jumps right out. Com­pare to the birth and death year barely vis­i­ble just below the high­lighted por­tion — that writ­ing is the SAME vis­i­bil­ity as the high­lighted writing.

I found many head­stones with the writ­ing com­pletely unread­able, where the mir­ror by itself brings out the engraving.

“Joseph Day, 1886 — 1904 Joseph Day, son of Tru­man “Bud” Day and Clara Mae Polacek. He was born in Call­away Co. Mis­souri in Jan­u­ary 1886. He was a grand­son of Tru­man Day and Eliza Clen­den­nen. He was my first cousin 3 times removed.”

To cre­ate my Magic Mir­ror, I cut out the card­board from the side of a box, mak­ing it slightly larger than the size of the mir­ror. I edged the whole thing with green duct tape. I fig­ured that green duct tape would look slightly less tacky than gray duct tape. The Magic Mir­ror size has turned out to be quite handy. It trav­els well, not being too bulky, and I carry it under my arm as I walk the ceme­ter­ies. It has lasted through many thou­sands of head­stone photos.

The mir­ror itself is a wall tile from the local Home Improve­ment store. It is stiff, not flex­i­ble, which means I can hold it with one hand with­out it bend­ing out of shape.

The third photo above shows how to use the Magic Mir­ror. Click on the image for a full view so you can see exactly what I mean. We are shin­ing the sun­light across the inscrip­tion. The incised writ­ing then appears as shad­ows, bring­ing the text into bold relief. The sun is to the left, the mir­ror is to the right. You can see the reflected sun­light hit­ting the side of the head­stone, and shin­ing across the face.

The trick is to move the mir­ror so it is prac­ti­cally behind the head­stone, so that the sun­light just barely shines across the face. All tex­ture in the stone then appears as shad­ows. In fact, in full view, you can see some sort of ver­ti­cal design to the left and right of the writ­ing. No way would you even sus­pect that with­out the Magic Mirror!

In the photo, “Joseph Day 1886–1904″ and “Tru­man Day” are vis­i­ble. Truman’s birth and death year are far more dif­fi­cult to make out. Yet they are exactly as vis­i­ble as the high­lighted text. The Magic Mir­ror is the entire difference!

The Swipe

Note the pow­der puff in a dish, at the cen­ter right of the “Ceme­tery Tool Kit” photo above. I filled the dish with pure corn starch (and keep a box of corn starch avail­able for refills).

I no longer use corn starch. Opin­ions vary as to whether it is harm­ful or not. We don’t want to risk any harm to the head­stones! Using ONLY the Magic Mir­ror and sun­light, you can’t go wrong! Any­thing touch­ing a head­stone can cause irrepara­ble damage.

Appleton A. Holt

Apple­ton A. Holt

Mary F. White Gray

Mary F. White Gray

Apple­ton A. Holt: The powder-swipe tech­nique with a repaired head­stone. The head­stone has been re-set in con­crete, with the repair pre­serv­ing the orig­i­nal inscrip­tion. In the back­ground you can see a well-preserved head­stone dat­ing to 1840. When they are that well pre­served, it often means that the head­stone had fallen over and was under­ground — the ground cov­er­ing saved it from destruc­tion due to acid rain.

“Apple­ton A. Holt, born Jan. 27, 1855 died May 4, 1878. Apple­ton A. Holt was a son of William Price Holt and Mary Polly Blythe. He was a grand­son of Abner Holt Sr. and Eliz­a­beth Brooks. He was my 2nd cousin 4 times removed.”

Mary F. White Gray: Use this tech­nique VERY care­fully, lest you cause addi­tional dam­age to head­stones that can NEVER be replaced. I rub off moss using my bare hand (never any­thing more abra­sive, or more pro­tec­tive such as a glove).

For this photo we did a swipe with a pow­der puff dipped in pure corn starch. It brought out the otherwise-invisible writ­ing. The corn starch should wash off with the next rainfall.

“Mary F. Gray, 1843 — 1928. Mary Fran­cis White was the wife of Robert H. Gray.”

John Herring and Lucy Carver

John Her­ring and Lucy Carver

Pitcher General Store

Pitcher Gen­eral Store

John Her­ring and Lucy Carver: What’s left of the John Her­ring head­stone. No trace of his wife’s head­stone, but the arrange­ments of the buri­als in this aban­doned ceme­tery, plus cour­t­house research, indi­cate she is beside him. The photo “Pitcher Gen­eral Store” is from a few yards down the road, and the model is a descen­dant of this cou­ple. The pure-corn-starch swipe tech­nique was used to help bring out the “John Her­ring” vis­i­ble at the top of the mid­dle section.

A por­trait of their grand-daughter Eliza S. Her­ring Car­ring­ton is above. Eliza’s par­ents rest in this aban­doned fam­ily ceme­tery, beside John and Lucy.

“John Her­ring, born 1798 in Albe­marle County Vir­ginia, died Sep­tem­ber 14, 1864 in Call­away County Mo. Every­one buried in this, John Herring’s fam­ily ceme­tery is either his child or grand­child or spouse of either. On Dec. 3, 1818 in Albe­marle Co., Vir­ginia he mar­ried Lucy Carver. Lucy Carver Her­ring is also buried here, but we could find no trace of her stone. She was born Apr. 16, 1796 in Albe­marle Co., Vir­ginia and died Mar. 20, 1873 in Call­away Co., Mis­souri. She was a daugh­ter of Jar­rell Carver and Nancy Beck. John and Lucy Carver Her­ring were my great great great grandparents.”

Pitcher Gen­eral Store: The Pitcher Gen­eral Store is all that’s left of the town of Pitcher, Call­away County Mis­souri. The model is a descen­dant of the peo­ple who came from Vir­ginia and set­tled the area in the 1830s.

Use this tech­nique VERY care­fully, lest you cause addi­tional dam­age to head­stones that can NEVER be replaced. I rub off moss with my bare hand — never any­thing more abra­sive, or more pro­tec­tive such as a glove. For these pho­tos we did a swipe with the pow­der puff dipped in pure corn starch. It brought out the otherwise-invisible writ­ing. The corn starch should wash off with the next rainfall.

In the left-hand photo, the head­stone has been re-set in con­crete, with the repair pre­serv­ing the orig­i­nal descrip­tion. In the back­ground you can see a well-preserved head­stone dat­ing to 1840. When they are that well pre­served, it often means the head­stone had fallen over and was under­ground — the ground cov­er­ing saved it from destruc­tion due to acid rain.

In the sec­ond photo, the Magic Mir­ror would have worked as well — if the sun had been out! I force the flash to be used for all head­stone pho­tos; they gen­er­ally come out more leg­i­ble that way regard­less of sun­light con­di­tions. I take most pho­tos from a sharp angle to help bring the writ­ing into relief, and avoid the flash reflection.

The third photo is what is left of the John Her­ring (1798–1864) head­stone. You can make out the name “John Her­ring” in curved writ­ing at the top of the cen­ter sec­tion. We found no trace of his wife Lucy’s head­stone, but the arrange­ment of the bur­ial depres­sions in this aban­doned ceme­tery, plus cour­t­house records research, indi­cate she is beside him.

The fourth photo is Pitcher Gen­eral Store, a few yards down the road from the John and Lucy Her­ring ceme­tery, and the model is a descen­dant of this cou­ple. Eliza S. (Her­ring) Car­ring­ton, whose por­trait is above, is their grand-daughter. Eliza’s par­ents rest beside John and Lucy.

Care­ful Examination

For this trip we were lucky enough to have a pro­fes­sional archae­ol­o­gist with us! The pho­tos below are from the same John and Lucy Her­ring aban­doned ceme­tery (offi­cially “Her­ring #2 Ceme­tery” of Call­away County, Mis­souri, USA).

William H. Herring

William H. Herring

Marked Burial

Marked Bur­ial

William H. Her­ring: Exam­ple of a partially-excavated head­stone. It’s pretty clear from the photo that the part under ground is bet­ter preserved.

“William H. Son of J.P. & A.J. Her­ring, died Apr. 6, 1851, 9 months. William H. Her­ring, son of John P. Her­ring and Amanda Jane Knight. He was a grand­son of John Her­ring and Lucy Carver, and, William L. Knight and Eliza Horn­buckle. He was my 1st cousin 3 times removed. This head­stone was sunken into the ground, we dug out around it in May 2007 and most of the head­stone was then readable.”

Marked Bur­ial: While sur­vey­ing this aban­doned fam­ily ceme­tery, we used sur­vey mark­ers to note what we found. This nat­ural stone marker has no writ­ing. Slave buri­als in fam­ily ceme­ter­ies were often marked this way. How­ever, most buri­als in this county prior to about 1840 were with nat­ural stone mark­ers — no inscriptions.

Abandoned Cemetery

Aban­doned Cemetery

Aban­doned Ceme­tery: This is the gen­eral con­di­tion of the aban­doned Her­ring fam­ily ceme­tery, offi­cially known as “Her­ring #2 Ceme­tery” in Call­away County, Mis­souri, USA. Lots of under­brush, ticks, and poten­tially cop­per­head snakes.

You can see a head­stone and base to the right. To the lower left is a nat­ural stone (unin­scribed) marker. There is another one to the upper left of the photo. The “magic mir­ror” was an amaz­ing help in bring­ing out the eroded inscriptions.

The first photo is of a partially-excavated head­stone. You can see the severe weath­er­ing on the upper part of the head­stone, whereas the lower por­tion is quite well pre­served. This grand­child of John and Lucy Her­ring died as a 9-month-old infant. We used the flat trowel shown in the Ceme­tery Tool Kit, and our bare fin­gers, to exca­vate. The flat trowel allowed us to dig down with­out risk­ing scratch­ing the head­stone itself.

When head­stones are knocked over and buried under­ground, they are nearly always lay­ing with the writ­ing face up. Thus if you are prob­ing the ground look­ing for head­stones, be very care­ful that your probe does not indeli­bly scratch the head­stone on contact!

The sec­ond photo is of a nat­ural stone marker. While exam­in­ing the ceme­tery, we placed sur­vey mark­ers to note what we had found. This nat­ural stone marker has no writ­ing. Slave buri­als in fam­ily ceme­ter­ies were often marked this way. How­ever, most buri­als in this county prior to about 1840 were with nat­ural stone mark­ers — no inscriptions.

The third photo shows the gen­eral con­di­tion of the John and Lucy Her­ring ceme­tery. There was lots of under­brush, ticks, and poten­tially cop­per­head snakes! You can see a head­stone and base to the right. To the lower left is a nat­ural stone (unin­scribed) marker. There is another nat­ural stone marker to the upper left of the photo.

Walk­ing Tour

Let’s con­tinue our walk around Call­away County. Here we have sup­port­ing evi­dence, sad­ness, and a touch of humor with people’s names.

Wiley G. Tatum

Wiley G. Tatum

Hallowed Ground

Hal­lowed Ground

Wiley G. Tatum: Another exam­ple of the “magic mir­ror” in use. The reflected sun­light acts to high­light the part of the head­stone of inter­est, and brings out worn-off inscrip­tions by throw­ing them into deep relief.

Do you see the “G.” as Wiley’s mid­dle ini­tial? This helped strengthen the evi­dence for a fam­ily mys­tery. We made a spe­cial trip to this ceme­tery to see whether it was a “C” or “G.” It is a “G,” which lent strength to our sus­pi­cion that he is in fact son of Gravett Tatum.

“W.G. Tatum, Born Jan 18, 1810, Died Apr 3, 1872, Aged 62 yr, 2 mo, 15 ds. This is Wiley G. Tatum, son of Gravett Tatum, born in Vir­ginia. He mar­ried Amy Chaney on Dec 17, 1831 in Char­lotte Virginia.”

Hal­lowed Ground: This is the Fletcher-Hill ceme­tery in Call­away County, Mis­souri, USA. It is an aban­doned fam­ily ceme­tery, on pri­vate prop­erty, vis­ited with the owner’s per­mis­sion. Live­stock are allowed to roam freely through the ceme­tery area, knock­ing down and crush­ing the remain­ing headstones.

Noah Flood was a Baptist

Noah Flood was a Baptist

By Hook And By Crook

By Hook And By Crook

Noah Flood Was A Bap­tist: Yes, the Rev­erend Noah Flood was a Bap­tist. How cool is that? At least, I have seen records of his per­form­ing numer­ous wed­dings, and he is buried with his fam­ily at Rich­land Bap­tist Church Ceme­tery in Call­away County, Mis­souri, USA.

“To the mem­ory of Rev. Noah Flood, born Jun. 14, 1809 died Aug. 11, 1873. Jane L. Flood, born Dec. 2, 1817 died Feb. 3, 1899. Noah Flood was the son of Joshua Flood. On Jun 20, 1838 he mar­ried Lev­isa Jane Ayres. She was a daugh­ter of Wal­ter Ayres and Agnes Maxey, and was my 3rd cousin 4 times removed.”

By Hook And By Crook: The Car­ring­ton Bap­tist Church ceme­tery in Call­away County, Mis­souri, USA, has both Hook fam­ily and Crook fam­ily buri­als. I can’t help but spec­u­late that there is an unwed mother in there some­where, by Hook or by Crook.

“Hook, Thomas B. At Rest June 8, 1853 — June 21, 1930. Hus­band of Kate Dun­ham. Thomas B. Hook was a son of William Henry Hook and Mada­line M. Turner.”

The four pho­tos above rep­re­sent Ming Ceme­tery; Fletcher-Hill Ceme­tery; Rich­land Bap­tist Church Ceme­tery; Car­ring­ton Bap­tist Church Ceme­tery; all of Call­away County, Mis­souri, USA.

In the first photo, do you see the “G.” as Wiley Tatum’s mid­dle ini­tial? This helped strengthen the evi­dence for a fam­ily mys­tery. We made a spe­cial trip to the ceme­tery, on behalf of some­one else, to see whether it was a “C” or “G.” It is a “G,” which lent strength to our the­ory that he is in fact son of Gravett Tatum. Iron­i­cally enough, a patch of moss is try­ing to make that “C” look like a “G.” I care­fully traced it with my fin­ger at the time, to make absolutely sure it was a “G!”

The sec­ond photo is Fletcher-Hill Ceme­tery. It is an aban­doned fam­ily ceme­tery on pri­vate prop­erty. Wayne John­son obtained per­mis­sion for our visit. The land owner allows live­stock to roam freely through the ceme­tery area, knock­ing down and crush­ing the remain­ing headstones.

When I see an obelisk in the Mid­west­ern USA, it almost always indi­cates a bur­ial in the 1880s. The Rev­erend Noah Flood died in 1873, which doesn’t quite fit with my obser­va­tion — anom­alies like that can pro­vide clues for inves­ti­ga­tion! In fact, though, we were already famil­iar with his name because he appeared in count­less mar­riage records, and because his wife is a blood relative.

The name “Noah Flood,” of course, jumps right out at you as being humor­ous. That Noah Flood was a preacher, is price­less. But there is more! Noah Flood is buried on the high­est ground in that ceme­tery. How cool is that! It took me another year to real­ize the final piece of humor… by look­ing at the ceme­tery name, I real­ized that Noah Flood was a Baptist.

The fourth photo is a bit of unfair spec­u­la­tion. The Car­ring­ton ceme­tery con­tains both Hook fam­ily buri­als, and Crook fam­ily buri­als. I can’t help but spec­u­late that there is an unwed mother in there, by Hook or by Crook.

 

All pho­tos in this arti­cle are by Edward W. Barnard, and cour­tesy of Albe­marle to Call­away: The Her­ring Fam­ily Jour­ney. Copy­right Edward W. Barnard 2008–2012, All Rights Reserved.

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One Comment

  1. Enjoyed this very much. Loved see­ing pic­ture of my great grand­mother Carrington

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