ELKHART — On a walk around Grace Lawn Cemetery, Elkhart Emergency Management Department member Jack Sanders saw something unusual on a gravestone: the words “Congressional Medal of Honor.”
He had discovered the gravestone of Capt. Orville Tyron Chamberlain, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor after serving in the Civil War. The Elkhart resident was an attorney and went to Notre Dame. Sanders, a veteran himself, wanted to bring the gravestone back to its former glory. Right now it has white specks on it and the coloring is uneven and faded.
“There’s probably a lot of people that don’t even know we have a Medal of Honor (winner),” Sanders said.
The Elkhart County Historical Museum and the Elkhart Civic Theatre are having tours of Grace Lawn Cemetery at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday with actors from the ECT playing some of the more famous residents of the cemetery. Sanders said he wanted to have Chamberlain’s headstone clean before then.
Sanders said it’s the only tombstone of a Congressional Medal of Honor winner that they know of in the cemetery. It is the highest military honor in the country, dating back to the Civil War.
“Them guys come few and far between,” he said.
EMD director Bill Faus got permission from the mayor to take on this project with other members of his department, who are all volunteering their time. Workers from the Elkhart Emergency Management Departments called Stemm-Lawson-Peterson Funeral Home for information on how to clean the headstones properly. They recommended scrub brushes and regular soap.
Chamberlain received the medal while fighting in Chickamuaga, Ga., in September 1863. He served in Company G, 74th Indiana Infantry. More than 100 Civil War veterans are buried in Grace Lawn Cemetery. Sanders ordered a 35-star flag for Chamberlain’s grave, the one that would’ve flown during the Civil War since the country only had 35 states during the later part of the war.
His wife, Helen Mead Chamberlain, is buried next to him. Her gravestone said that she died in 1911. The Chamberlain family gravestone is also there with other Chamberlains buried nearby.
Chamberlain’s wife’s gravestone was covered in a green fungus, making parts of her name difficult to read. After some scrubbing and several sprays of cleaner, the workers were able to clear away the gunk and make her headstone legible. Workers used scissors to clip away grass near the graves and rakes to clean up. They also used nails to dig out the gunk that had accumulated between letters.
Faus said they hope to restore some of the other veterans’ graves around the cemetery. There are veterans from the Spanish-American War, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War buried in the cemetery.
“This is our priority,” Faus said of Chamberlain’s grave.