Making a Difference: Man cleans and cares for headstones at Woodland Cemetery

DAYTON — Sitting in the middle of Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, where about 100,000 people are buried, Dave Watson says he feels comfortable.

He thinks God has given him a purpose.

“It makes me feel better, I’ve done something. I matter to somebody, even if nobody knows who I am or what I do,” Watson said.

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For the last couple of years, Watson has been clearing away decades of dirt and grime on headstones. He wants to bring back some life and beauty to those forgotten.

“I want to do it the right way, I want to gussy them up a little bit,” he said.

After his parents passed away and he buried them at Woodland, he said he needed a hobby. He decided to take a class on how to correctly clean and care for headstones. When WHIO’s James Brown caught up with Watson at Woodland, he brought with him his special toolbox. In it, he had toothbrushes, numerous plastic paint scrapers, and small hand brushes. Each has a purpose to help Watson remove the moss and dirt .

As Watson worked, he said, “this is somebody’s mother, this is somebody’s father. You look at the stones here, and you can’t read them. So, that’s my job.”

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Watson worked from left to right on a headstone which was about two feet wide and a foot tall.

“Toothpicks are great too,” he said as he gently picked away at what looked like the first letter in person’s name.

Next to him, Watson had one of those gallon-sized weed sprayers.

“Look at how it’s coming out here, you can read this now,” he said.

Watson grabbed the top of the sprayer, gave it a few pumps, and sprayed water on what he had been cleaning.

“Just a little scraping with this and a little more water pressure. Look at this! Anna’s coming back to us now.” Watson smiled and his eyes got big as he read her name. “We know she was born in 1859, and she died in 1926.”

Watson estimates he has done this to 40 other headstones over the last couple of years.

“You have to have a lot of patience,” he said.

One headstone he said took him two months to properly clean.

“I hope I bring a little joy and satisfaction to a place people don’t normally want to go more than one time or twice when it isn’t such a happy occasion,” he said.

Watson has never asked for any special recognition or attention. But said, “when I go to heaven, I believe it, maybe my spirit will run into the spirit of the people who rest here now. And their spirits will say, I know you, you’re Dave. Thank you for watching out after me. I will say it is my pleasure.”

As Watson moved his hand broom back and forth on Anna’s headstone he paused and said, “this means a lot to me.”

Watson said he has lived his life wanting his parents to be proud of him. From across the way, at his parents’ final resting place at Woodland Cemetery, if headstones could talk, everyone at Woodland would agree, Dave Watson is “Making a Difference.”