Andrew Lumish is a serious history buff. He lives near Tampa, Florida, and can tell you all about what it was like there all the way back to the Civil War. It was this connection to history that led him to a hobby that would eventually become an internationally appreciated act of honor.
Lumish is also a self-employed cleaner with Chem-Dry Carpet Cleaning, so he knows how to clean basically everything. As he was exploring a Tampa-area cemetery almost three years ago, he noticed a few things that were in dire need of his services: The graves of American veterans.
"I came across a very old cemetery near downtown, and in doing so I found some incredible imagery," Lumish told HLN. "I started photographing it, and I started to Google the history on some of these people and it was so interesting. One of my observations was many of the military members who had passed away, their monuments were in terrible shape and it really bothered me."
Lumish wanted to do something about it, so he trained himself on how to clean different gravestones, including ones made of limestone, sandstone and granite. "I started restoring them one by one," he said. On his one day off a week, Lumish would make his way through different cemeteries, cleaning six or so stones at a time. What he uncovered was more than names etched in rock.
"I've learned some really cool stuff," he said. His historian's mind was piqued by the project, so he started to document his findings. "I had to create a Facebook page, and I post history stories. I look up all of the information on the people I'm restoring."
The Good Cemetarian has nearly 2,000 followers now, and Lumish updates the page with pieces of history that, like the stones he tends to, have been given a new life. An ABC News video of his quest earlier this year got more than 5,000 shares and hundreds of thousands of views. Suddenly, Lumish's local graveyard endeavors were known the world over.
"I get a lot of thank-yous from veterans or from widows of veterans," he says, noting that some of the letters or communications come from countries thousands of miles away. "It's shocking and really humbling."
The reactions of the people who appreciate his work are what proves that it's not just about cleaning up, or even about respect. It's about remembering.
Lumish says he cleaned and shared images of one gravestone of a young man who was killed in Vietnam in 1967. "It was a kid. His name is Alvin," Lumish says. "His family saw [the stone] and they started writing about it and thanking me for restoring his tombstone. He was 18 years old when he was killed. And he will always be 18, frozen in time."
Since his project took off, Lumish says a lot of people have expressed interest in following suit. "They want to do Eagle Scout projects, community groups want to do it, church groups want to do it." Which is great, Lumish says. But Lumish is a trained professional who has spent time learning how to take care of different surfaces. He urges those who want to give it a try to get permission, and get educated.
"It's really important that people don't act hastily because it could do more damage," he says. "Would I love to see groups in every city be inspired? Absolutely, but not at the risk of ruining these monuments."
Lumish's franchise partner, Chem-Dry, has actually provided a helping hand for those interested in continuing Lumish's work in a responsible way.
"After learning about Andrew's inspiring act of kindness, we were flooded with inquiries from franchisees in our system about how they can follow his lead and clean the gravestones of military veterans,” said Dan Tarantin, CEO of Harris Research International (HRI), parent company of Chem-Dry. Tarantin said the company will offer the proper products and instructions to any franchisees who are interested in performing the services as a personal project.
To Lumish, the attention he has gotten for his seemingly simple hobby is almost amusing. It's just a passion of his, and the fact that it helps people just makes it all the more worthwhile.
"My goal [when I set out] was really nothing. It was just what I wanted to do," he says. "You hear stories about military veterans being neglected, and then you go and see all of this, the poor conditions that no one seems to be caring for or answering to. No one's taking care of these servicemen and women, and if I see that I will gladly spend my money and my time fixing what's not right."