Andrew Lumish, from Tampa, Florida, is passionate about history and photography. But when he headed out to a local cemetery to take some photographs of old gravestones back in 2015, Lumish was shocked by what he discovered. What he witnessed in the cemetery had a huge effect on him, one so great that it would pretty much alter his life.
Lumish runs his own cleaning business. It’s a busy job and means he only gets one day off a week. But he was so moved by what he found in the cemetery that for the last few years he’s been dedicating his one free day a week to making a difference. You see, although Lumish didn’t know any of the people buried in the cemetery, he was dismayed by the state of their tombstones.
“Something bothered me,” Lumish told the Tampa Bay Times back in 2015. “Their final resting places were total disasters.” It seems the passage of time and the influence of the elements had damaged the headstones; indeed, some were so encrusted in grime that it was impossible to even read the inscriptions on them. And what really bothered Lumish was that a large number of these graves marked the final resting places of military veterans – brave souls who had served in a number of different conflicts.
Although he was never a military man himself, Lumish felt it was important to honor those who had served their country. He realized that some of the fallen soldiers laid to rest in and around Tampa had no relatives who could tend to their graves. Lumish told Reader’s Digest, “There were monuments for veterans who served in every conflict, from the Civil War and the different Indian wars, going nearly to the mid-1800s, and no one was taking care of them.”
Some of the graves were festooned with moss, while others were just plain grubby. Lumish felt the brave men and women buried in the cemetery were being forgotten. He told the Tampa Bay Times, “They paid the ultimate sacrifice to our country, and to see that they faded away was something I didn’t find acceptable.”
Lumish reckoned he could put his expertise in the cleaning industry to good effect. So he started to look into ways to tackle the effects of neglect and decay on marble, granite and stone, all materials typically used to make gravestones. A pressure washer was out of the question, the cleaning pro reasoned, so he had to find out how he could refresh the stones by hand.
To this end, Lumish familiarized himself with the tried-and-tested methods used to restore monuments. He read up on how headstones were cared for at Arlington National Cemetery before going out to buy his gear, which included various towels and brushes alongside some specialist cleaning fluid. With his supplies at the ready, Lumish then went to work.
The cleaning business Lumish runs specializes in carpets and upholstery, so he had no experience of cleaning headstones. But he soon established a special technique for getting rid of the grime, a process that can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the state of the tombstone. The good Samaritan told CBS News, “I scrub. And I scrub. And I get the edges. And I get in the letters. And I get in the numbers.”
Cleaning the headstones can be an arduous process – indeed, some restorations often take several months to complete. But the results of Lumish’s efforts are incredible. He now spends virtually every Sunday – his only day off – cleaning gravestones. As a result, he has restored hundreds of monuments to their former glory.
To show off his good work, Lumish regularly posts “before and after” shots to his Facebook page, where he’s known as The Good Cemeterian. But incredibly, his amazing efforts don’t end once the headstones are clean. Instead, Lumish also likes to research the stories of those whose graves he tends, to find out more about their lives and careers.
The reason for this is simple. Lumish says he feels a connection to the veterans and believes it’s important to bring their memories back to life. He told NBC News, “I love to be able to show these individuals and show their accomplishments.”
With the help of old newspapers and genealogy websites, Lumish and Jen Armbruster, who works as his assistant, bring the fallen soldiers’ stories to a wider public. “We are delving into that person’s life so that we can respectfully tell what that person went through,” Lumish told Fox News. “I don’t want anyone to be forgotten.”
The Good Cemeterian Facebook page now has more than 93,000 followers and has inspired others to help the cause. Lumish told U.K. news website Metro that he receives hundreds of messages asking for help and advice on cleaning the graves of loved ones. He’s even heard of schools and Boy Scout groups carrying out their own restorations.
What’s more, Lumish says he’s also managed to get his son involved in his restoration projects. He told Metro that the teenager shares his interest in finding out the stories behind the headstones. “We discuss the battles they might have fought in and then see what we can find out online,” Lumish explained.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lumish’s sterling work hasn’t gone unnoticed – he’s even been honored by the Department of Veteran Affairs. Meanwhile, the manufacturer of D/2 Biological Solution, the substance officially approved for cleaning national cemeteries, started to provide Lumish with free supplies of its product.
But those who value Lumish’s work the most are the families of the veterans whose headstones have been restored. One of the graves Lumish worked on was that of World War Two veteran Joe Lazzara. Joe’s brother Sam, aged 90, said he was unable to visit the family plot much any more so Andrew’s work was a real blessing. Sam told NBC News, “God brought him down to us.”
Speaking to Reader’s Digest, Lumish said another memorable experience involved the son and granddaughter of a World War Two soldier. The soldier, who had a somewhat fractured relationship with his son, died before his granddaughter was born and consequently never got to see her. Indeed, so strained was the bond that the son refused to tell his daughter about her dead grandfather. But when the man’s daughter learned that her grandfather’s grave had been restored, she shared the happy news with her father.
Clearly moved, the man broke down and subsequently opened up about his father’s life. Though he had previously found it too painful to discuss, now he told his daughter everything she wanted to know. Lumish told Metro it was “incredible” to know he could have such a huge impact on people’s lives.
Lumish’s research into the lives of the military veterans regularly brings up fascinating and tragic stories in equal measure. “Some of these guys, who some consider heroes, would leave their wife for another woman, and leave six kids,” he told Reader’s Digest. “It’s like The Real Housewives of 1895.”
And there is another, more personal reason that Lumish feels the need to honor America’s war heroes. His friend Chris Scala, an Air Force veteran, took his own life in 2013 after a battle with PTSD. “We honor the past, but I also always honor him. I always think of him,” Lumish told Fox News.