AMESBURY, Mass. (AP) — After 10 years of identifying and restoring local veterans' headstones, Jane Snow is still doing her part to honor the city's fallen heroes while learning bits of history along the way.
Snow, a retired teacher and Newburyport resident, often spends 40 hours a week walking the grounds of Amesbury cemeteries with a bottle of dish soap, clearing away mold from veterans' old headstones, and logging each name and date in her notebook.
She has never asked to be paid for the project, and has identified and documented about 14,000 gravestones.
The project began in 2009, when Snow volunteered to put flags near all of the veterans' graves in Mount Prospect Cemetery in memory of her father, a U.S. Navy veteran who died in 2007.
And after Snow discovered there was a lack of knowledge about the identities and locations of some of the cemetery's buried veterans, she set out to document them herself, ultimately identifying, photographing and compiling the site's 500 veteran graves into a detailed list.
And while doing so may be a daunting task for some, uncovering the cemetery's secrets has brought Snow joy.
"I love a puzzle and searching things out, so it just got to be addictive," she said.
The initial project proved to be just the beginning for Snow, who moved on to Amesbury's Old Corner and Union cemeteries to document the locations of the remainder of the city's veterans at rest.
Snow has recently been hard at work in Union Cemetery, which dates back to the 1600s and is most notably the resting place of Amesbury's beloved poet, John Greenleaf Whittier.
While walking through the cemetery grounds, Snow pointed out several of her most fascinating discoveries, including primitive-looking gravestones carved in the 18th century and a stone walkway that led to a church which played a crucial role in Amesbury's split from Salisbury in 1667.
And it's clear from Snow's enthusiasm that she's still in awe of it all.
"There are so many important parts of our history here," Snow said. "There are 35 Revolutionary War veterans buried in this cemetery. It's unheard of to have that many."
When she's not roving the cemeteries with cleaning supplies in hand, Snow can often be found on her computer in her Newburyport home, building a digital database that will make it easy for people to find the locations of graves throughout each cemetery.
Using all of her data, Snow has mapped out the locations of veterans' burial sites and has created charts that are on display for visitors. In addition, she has uprighted many fallen stones, and installed and painted signs in each cemetery.
Snow said she recently finished all of her "grave work" for Union Cemetery and now has to focus on typing up all the data she's collected. Otherwise, she hopes to acquire money through grants to help her restore some of the cemetery's larger damaged and fallen headstones.
"Unfortunately, what's left to do costs money. Right now, what's on the ground is the big stuff I can't do myself," said Snow, who in 2017 received a $10,000 grant from the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Charitable Foundation to fix many of the cemetery's headstones.
And while payment is not part of the equation, Snow said she has continued to be rewarded with the feeling she gets from honoring veterans and discovering long-lost pieces of local history.
"In the beginning, I just wanted to do something nice for the veterans, but now it's a combination of making sure the veterans are respected and taken care of, but also noting the important history that I've found in the cemetery as I went," Snow said. "I think all these little pieces of information are interesting to some people."