DIXON – David Swegle wanted to do something unique for his Eagle Scout community project, and bringing the dead back to life certainly qualifies for that category.
The 15-year-old Dixon native isn’t going the route of George A. Romero or Mary Shelley, but he is bringing a second life to some of the oldest tombstones in Oakwood Cemetery.
“I think it’s great to do it because the stones have been buried for 100 years,” he said. “Now, we’re bringing them back to life and giving them a chance to be noticed.”
Swegle, a history buff and sophomore at Newman Central Catholic High School, sought a project that was both rooted in history and beneficial to the community in his trek to become an Eagle Scout, the organization’s highest achievement that only about 5 percent of Boy Scouts reach.
He found such an undertaking after reaching out to the Lee County Historical and Genealogical Society and discovering society President Pat Gorman had been restoring grave markers in the cemetery in his spare time.
Swegle worked with Gorman and identified eight stones that had been buried, broken or displaced, the oldest of which dates to 1845 and belongs to 2-month-old William McCraw.
“The grass keeps encroaching on them and just swallows them up,” Gorman said.
Before unearthing and taking the stones for repairs, Swegle filled out a stack of paperwork requesting the city’s permission for the project in May.
He and Gorman dug them up last month – large sandstone slabs weighing about 80 to 100 pounds each – and Swegle and two other scouts in the Dixon-based Troop 85 cleaned them.
Cleaning consisted of applying a special solution geared to removing algae and other material, scrubbing the stones, and hosing them off.
The next step was to re-letter the stones using pungent, dark shadow paint. They plan to seal the stones this weekend, store them during the winter and replant them in the spring.
Swegle also plans to research the departed to discover pieces of their history, their family and the like.
“It’s important to learn about the people of our past, what they did to shape our lives and how they affected everything we do today,” he said.
Gorman and Tom Kitson, a Lee County Board member who began restoring a tombstone about a year ago and is helping to oversee the project, said there could be more than 100 stones buried in the cemetery.
“If you drive through the cemetery and just look at it, it’s just devastating seeing what nature and vandalism have done to the stones,” Kitson said.
The project centers around the eight stones, but Swegle plans to continue the restorations as a hobby, slowly breathing life into stones that have been weathered by time, vandalism or accidental damage.
“I could spend my whole life doing it – there’s just so many that are buried,” he said.