Tualatin woman helps rehab Civil War veteran's grave in Stafford
This past summer, Tualatin resident Shirley Herrick embarked on what might seem like an unusual project: photographing every grave at the Robert Bird Cemetery in the Stafford area.
Yet anyone who has visited the website Find a Grave would understand exactly what Herrick was up to. In keeping with its namesake, the site serves as a virtual database for gravesites around the world and relies on volunteers like Herrick to keep that archive growing.
Herrick had received a number of requests to find individual graves at the Robert Bird Cemetery — located just off of Newland Road near Wilsonville — and she decided to simply photograph every headstone at the property while she was at it. In the process, one particularly weathered gravestone caught her eye.
It was a Civil War monument for a Union Army soldier named Francis F. Taft, tipping dangerously to the right with a small American flag planted next to it.
"It was ready to topple and in bad shape," Herrick said.
Curious to learn more about Taft and perhaps embark on an effort to restore the monument, Herrick went on Ancestry.com — which is affiliated with Find A Grave — and searched for his family tree. Then, she contacted his living descendants.
"All of them had no idea what happened to him," she said. "They knew he was in an old soldier's home in California, but no one said anything more.
"Then this one great-granddaughter got ahold of me and said, 'You have my permission (to restore it).'"
From there, Herrick's next step was to reach out to Charlotte Lehan — a Wilsonville city councilor and member of the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries who is trained in restoring gravesites. The process is far more intricate than one might imagine.
"You don't use everyday chemicals," Herrick said. "It absorbs into the old stones, whether they are marble or granite."
Instead, one must use a special "D/2" solution.
"D/2 is used on the White House, at the Arlington National Cemetery, any monument," Herrick said. "The stone gets whiter, more beautiful. ... In Arlington, they go up and down the rows and do one row in a day. When you see the fields in Europe and Arlington, they're all white, and that's why."
Herrick, Lehan and a slew of other volunteers were also able to lift the stone and right it so it was no longer tipping over. Finally, a Civil War medallion was placed next to the monument.
For Herrick, who researches genealogy as a hobby, it was just another chance to restore and honor a family's history.
"I want people to understand that when they're walking through a cemetery, those beautiful stones can be resurrected," she said.
In the process, she also learned more about Taft's life. Born in New York, Taft eventually made his way out West via the Oregon Trail, and would go on to serve with the Union Cavalry as it guarded Utah from a Confederate invasion during the Civil War. He found his way to Oregon after the war, and died in 1925 while residing in the Stafford area.
"People forget that the Confederacy wasn't just fighting the Union, they were trying to get more states into the South," Herrick said. "They wanted New Mexico and Utah, and as soon as they invaded or captured (them), they would have turned them into slave states.
"It's a part of Civil War history people don't realize, and Francis Taft was there."
History relies on those who preserve it. And Herrick, for her part, is more than happy to dust off the cobwebs.