Sure, it's a summer job, but this Columbus State University student insists the reward he receives for gritting through the heat and the heft of his apprenticeship under a visiting master stonemason and ironworker is more valuable than the paycheck.
CSU sophomore Bryce Weatherwax, a 2012 graduate of Hardaway High School, has learned more than how to repair a headstone while working with Virginia-based David Via and his assistant, Scott McKee, at Linwood Cemetery, the 187-year-old graveyard founded the same year as the 1828 birth of Columbus.
"I've learned an encyclopedia page, or a few, about this cemetery in particular and the work that we're doing," said Weatherwax, 20. "But I think the more interesting things I've learned from David and Scott have been about working with people and meshing personalities together and understanding how to be effective as a team and communication.
"There are no waffly stonemasons. It's a business that calls for integrity and doesn't allow for anything else. If you mess up, you're held accountable."
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Jane Brady, executive director of the Historic Linwood Foundation, is grateful for the interest Weatherwax has demonstrated in the cemetery and the craft.
"I wish we had more people like that who would take part in helping to preserve history and give some of those very old monuments a little love and care," she said. "To see someone of that age have that interest is really inspiring. It sure is a classic mentor situation."
The foundation has brought Via to Columbus for 14 straight years as he methodically helps conserve Linwood. In his 40th year as a stonemason, Via specializes in restoring monuments in historic cemeteries.
Weatherwax met Via at Broadway Estate Jewelry, the downtown Columbus store his father, Mabo, owns.
"What got me interested was David," Weatherwax said, "not necessarily anything about the cemetery or masonry or stonework or conservation in general. David is an amazing teacher. He has a really strong personality but easy to work with and very fun to learn from."
Via, 62, reported his version.
"I'd seen Bryce in the shop, and we talked about one thing or another, and I think I gleaned that he had potential to lift heavy objects carefully," he cracked.
So he wasn't looking for someone he could teach his craft?
"That sounds good," Via said, "but I don't think I'd word it exactly like that. It was an opportunity in part for hopefully competent and careful help."
With a chain and pulley system, they lifted a piece of a marble headstone that had broken off after it somehow fell from its pedestal. Via estimated the piece weighs about 150 pounds. It marks the grave of Henrietta Matilda Thompkins, daughter of John and Cherry Bethune, born 1821, died 1866.
The task was to remove the cement patch. "Someone had cemented it back on top of there," Via said.
Whether the initial damage was from the weather or vandalism or natural deterioration, Via must be a detective and sometimes repair others' repair jobs.
"They're all done well until they fall apart," Via said with a laugh. "It wasn't pinned. So when the mortar joint broke, there was nothing holding it up there again."
Via described his diagnosis and treatment.
"The cement was used as an adhesive as well as a mortar between the two stones," he said. "We'll clean this, and then we will pin it in the center and into the top of its mating piece. We'll put in a stainless steel pin, and then we'll use adhesives and lime putty to set the two back together."
Weatherwax impressed Via and McKee by identifying the headstone as a mortise and tenon.
"I'm completely shocked," Via said. "This is only the second tenon I've seen in 14 years here."
The problem is, the bottom and top pieces don't match anymore. "Our job is to fill everything else completely," Via said, "and if we put too much of whatever we put in there or it's not the right consistency, it won't go down."
They use lime mortar, composed of lime and an aggregate, such as sand, and water.
"This will probably take 2 or 3 hours just to get this old cement off of here," Via said.
Weatherwax grinned and said, "We'll get to the bottom of this."
Via chuckled and replied, "Right, we'll get to the bottom of this."
The headstone originally was one piece of marble, Via noted, and pointed to a crack in the marble.
"They're all unique," he said, "but that's a very odd crack. I've hardly ever seen a fracture like this, certainly not down the top of one of these."
Via said he hasn't kept track of how many headstones he has repaired in Linwood.
"We've thought about counting," he said, "but it's definitely in the hundreds."
He hoped he would get to every headstone and monument when he started 14 years ago. Now, he realizes, "There's no way."
Linwood has the most urns in all the cemeteries he has seen, Via said. "It has fine ironwork, some exceptional granite monuments and fantastic carvings."
As a geology major, Weatherwax focuses on rocks in the ground. As he works with a stonemason repairing headstones, he focuses on rocks above the ground.
"The only expertise I'm bringing along," he said, "is the ability to listen and to take direction and the ability to move things effectively."
Weatherwax said his ideal career would be "a consultant for residential construction."
Via hollered, "If we've taught him anything, you don't want to be the guy handling the dirt. You want to be the consultant."
Linwood Cemetery, 721 Linwood Blvd., is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, including weekends and holidays. The Historic Linwood Foundation office is open Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and closed on holidays. For more information, including volunteer opportunities, call the foundation at 706-321-8285.