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Grave business
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Gary Milstead assists his dad, Jeff, in the final stages of the cleaning process by spraying D/2 Biological Solution on John Winston High’s tombstone in Mt. View Cemetery. - photo by Lacy Garrison

Monument cleaning and restoration began as a hobby for McMinnville native and Murfreesboro resident Jeff Milstead. Now, it’s become a business – Grave Undertakings.


According to Milstead, Grave Undertakings was formed to promote the preservation of history through the care and restoration of the headstones of World War II casualties. Since then, he continues to restore all types of monuments and to research the histories of fallen heroes. 


In fact, Milstead was sought out by High’s Funeral Home president Steve West to clean the tombstone of John Winston High located in Mt. View Cemetery.


“There’s no family left to take care of it anymore and it’s a beautiful stone, but it’s got some discoloration, mold and mildew,” explained West. “It’s not regular granite stone and it has a protective finish that makes it difficult to clean so we contacted Jeff.”


On Saturday morning, Milstead and his son began cleaning the tombstone, which is about five feet high and eight feet wide along with Mr. and Mrs. High’s footstones.


“First, we’ll remove all the mold and mildew by hand scrubbing it and applying a compound called Orvus Soap,” explained Milstead. “We’ll spray it and take a plastic scrub brush and a little wooden stick to clean out the name and dates.”


After spraying the stone with D/2 Biological Solution, which is a biodegradable liquid that removes staining, the stone may temporarily turn orange because of a natural chemical reaction, but it goes away. The change won’t be immediate, but Milstead says in three months’ time, it will be white.


“I’m honored beyond words to clean Mr. High’s tombstone and was surprised when they asked me to do this,” said Milstead. “Nobody was respected more than Mr. High. He was a great individual, who went out of his way to help families and I never heard everyone say anything derogatory about him.”


As far as cleaning tips go, Milstead said it is important to clean tombstones the right way to prevent damage to the stone. Here are a few things not to do:


Don’t use bleach because the sodium will cause the stone to break or crumble.


Don’t use wire brushes as this cleans off a layer of marble, which also destroys stone.


Don’t use power washers to blast the marble because this removes layers of stone as well.


If you have any questions, Milstead can be reached at 615-631-9167 or jeffmilstead@comcast.net. You can also receive cleaning tips, see examples of his work, the history connected to veteran graves, and videos of the restoration process on his Facebook page – Grave Undertakings Monument Restoration and Cleaning.