Andrew Lumish spends his free time in an unlikely place: cemeteries.
The owner of a carpet and upholstery cleaning service has just one day off a week, but he doesn’t just relax on the couch. Instead, he spends about ten hours using his cleaning skills to restore veterans’ tombstones around Tampa, Florida, as “The Good Cemeterian.”
Lumish got his start when photographing a historic cemetery and noticing veterans’ gravestones covered with mold, mildew, and weather damage. “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,” he says. “It upset me to see the condition they were in.”
To honor veterans for serving their country, Lumish taught himself how to properly clean graves. He found out the system the government uses for national cemeteries—including Arlington—and got to work.
Andrew LumishEach headstone can take between three weeks and four months to finish. “One under a 200-year-old oak tree since 1890 takes a long time to fix,” he says. “You’ve got vegetation, mold, mildew, extreme flooding every year, then multiply that by decades or centuries.” But Lumish is dedicated. He’s worked extra days to get ahead so that he can post four new pictures a week on his Facebook page. (This veteran’s paintings of fallen soldiers will make your heart burst with pride.)
But Lumish doesn’t just post a picture and call it a day. He scours genealogy sites to find the deceased’s backstory. He’ll share details like their hometowns, battles they fought in, wives, and businesses—and those stories can get juicy. “Some of these guys, who some consider heroes, would leave their wife for another woman, and leave six kids,” says Lumish. “It’s a war hero who won a medal of honor for serving in the Civil War and was thrown in jail for not paying child support. … It’s like Real Housewives of 1895.”
Lumish’s work has started a movement, inspiring others to clean veterans’ graves properly. “Huge swathes of teams and classes and Boy Scouts are doing it in their local communities and completing entire projects in a day or two,” he says. “Children have restored full cemeteries that would take years and years for veterans to do.”
If you want to start a similar project in your town, make sure to get permission and learn the proper technique for cleaning a gravestone, says Lumish. “It’s important not to just go haywire with a bottle of bleach and wire brush,” he says. In fact, federal veterans cemeteries don’t even allow bleach products. Instead, use a gentle product like D/2 Biological Solution with a natural or soft nylon brush, Lumish recommends.
Cleaning graves work doesn’t just warm hearts—it restores relationships. One World War II veteran died before his granddaughter was born, but his son refused to share details with her. The father and son had a rocky relationship, and the son found it too painful to talk about his death. But when the adult granddaughter found the tombstone suddenly restored, she rushed to show her dad and sister. “He totally broke down in hysterics. He was so moved by the restoration that he told them anything and everything about their grandfather that they wanted,” says Lumish. “It stopped the bleeding of this pain that was too painful for him to discuss.”