Participants at the AGS meeting in September toured Forest Home Cemetery. | Courtesy Natalee Arteaga

The Association for Gravestone Studies – Illinois Chapter held their fall meeting on Sept. 12 at the Oak Park Public Library. For those unaware, AGS was founded in 1977 as a nonprofit organization for the purpose of furthering the study and preservation of gravestones. They hold an annual conference the third week of June each year at a different location. The chapters have two meetings per year, spring and fall. 

“Cemetery John” Martine and Lynn Cawley organized the fall event and provided the smorgasbord of pastries, home-baked goods, doughnuts, coffee, and other breakfast refreshments. Grave marker enthusiasts trickled in alongside history pundits as sunlight flooded the room on the second floor. They gathered to share new information, revelations, positive updates, projects, stories, historical findings, and share camaraderie.

As the AGS is an organization with an interest in grave markers of all periods and styles, part of the day’s presentations featured photographs of various gravestones and markers from the Victorian period all the way back to ancient Egypt.

The presenters were Co-President John Martine; Forest Parker Mark Rogovin, Illinois Labor historian; Diane Grah, executive director of the Historical Society of Forest Park; Bleue Benton, collection department manager at the Oak Park Public Library; and Andrzej Dajnowski, director at the Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio in Forest Park.

Martine gave a rousing presentation on Joe Mariani, an elusive and mysterious permanent resident at Forest Home Cemetery, who was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an international radical labor union, founded in 1905, which still exists today. Otherwise known as the “Wobblies,” the source of the nickname itself is as uncertain as the life and times of Mr. Mariani.

Rogovin and Benton gave an appreciative presentation on the Haymarket Martyrs.

Grah presented on the Eastland Disaster, an event that on July 24, 1915 shook Chicago. The S.S. Eastland, a passenger ship that had reached max capacity at approximately 2,500 people, capsized at the wharf’s edge (it was docked at the Clark Street Bridge and never left the Chicago River. The ship rolled over and 844 people died, including 22 entire families. Grah’s presentation included photographs and her narration provided an eloquent tribute to the fated passengers and their families.

Dajnowski gave a compelling presentation on the modern laser and its role in gravestone conservation. Lasers have come a long way since their inception, and now their use can be turned to cleaning and preserving delicate monuments and gravestones without damage or risk to the pieces. Because the laser-cleaning process is extremely conservative, amazing results can be produced without the application of water, harsh chemical cleaners, or other abrasive methods that could possibly damage what the AGS works so tirelessly to preserve.

The next annual conference will be June 21-26 at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Participants can expect exciting research papers, late-night sessions with slides, music, refreshments, field trips to cemeteries, hands-on workshops, laughter, and the chance to make new friends.

If you are interested in getting involved, becoming a member, or are just curious, you can reach John Martine at to request information, share information, or simply introduce yourself. You could become a fellow advocate for preservation of more than just gravestones — as it is with those who bother to gather, exhibit, share, and encourage others in the preservation of gravestones, like those of the AGS. You could be a fellow advocate for preserving memories.