July 6, 2017

The Rub on Rubbings

Remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy is in the catacombs and finds the remains of a knight from the crusades? He takes out a large sheet of paper to complete a rubbing from a stone tablet that matches the knight’s shield. I’d heard of people doing the same thing with headstones. Like Indiana Jones, I thought this was more for informational purposes. But in researching how to properly do it, it seems lots of people ply this hobby for the artistry of the stone carvings as something interesting to hang on their wall

I say why can’t it be both?

During my recent trip along the National Road I found the need to do a rubbing in order to read a really old headstone. I purchased some packing paper that looked big enough and a small pack of crayons hoping these would do the trick. They didn’t. We were only able to read a few more words than before.

Weeks later I wanted to give it another shot. This time on a legible headstone from my family tree that was closer to home.  So I did a little more research. Most of my findings recommended things like interfacing paper, rubbing wax and other such tools that my local arts and crafts stores didn’t carry. I decided to make due with what I could find – the packing paper, crayons and maybe some charcoal sticks.

I chose my most recent genealogical person of interest, my 3x great grandfather Lewis Pearce. He’s buried in my hometown so I paid him a visit last time I was there. The paper was just big enough, almost as if it was made for this headstone. The charcoal produced a decent rubbing but it was very messy. I’d recommend rubber gloves if you use it. Or have access to a sink or at least bottles of water and a roll of paper towels.

I thought the end result was an interesting conversation piece. So I bought a frame and hung it on my wall.

My wife’s historical preservation training taught me to print a label for the back of the frame that might be handy if it ever changed hands or became illegible.

It’s not the most beautiful headstone, rubbing or wall art. But it’s personal, it has a great story and its about a real person. So, for my money, it works.

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