Westport Pharmacist’s Passion Is Restoring Gravestones
If it's true that the greatness of a community can be judged by the way its dead are treated, then Westport can be grateful to a group of volunteers who've cleaned and restored 500 headstones since 2019.
Todd Baptista, pharmacist by day, is also known as host and promoter of dozens of doo wop concerts, author of five books, a national radio show host, and part of the missionaries that bring medical supplies to the people in remote Central America.
He also has found a new passion.
"I knew nothing about cleaning or restoring old gravestones before undergoing a lot of training, and all the credit goes to Betty Slade, a champion for Westport, who helped secure the funds to pay for all the equipment and supplies," Baptista said.
A professional cleaning of a headstone runs upwards of $500 per stone, but this group of volunteers works for free.
"We use an amazing product to clean the moldy gravestones called D/2 Biological Solution, that's a non-toxic agent used by the National Park Service to clean veterans' headstones," Baptista said. "To restore broken headstones, we use Pratey epoxy putty and other glues and fillers. It's like bringing this time period back to life."
No spirits or anything paranormal have appeared during their work, but Baptista said there is a ghostly legend related to a house near a cemetery.
"In Westport there used to be a house near White's that most people considered to be haunted. There's a cemetery next to the house, and because of the reputation of the haunted house, the cemetery experienced extensive vandalism," he said. "There were people buried there after committing suicide, some were accused of murder and sexual crimes, and one fell to his death, slipping from the very top of the mast of a whaling ship, plunging down to his death."
The group was able to make a real difference there.
"We ended up cleaning and restoring 51 gravestones there, all belonging to the large Wordell family. Afterwards, we met with members of the family who became emotional, thanking us for what we did," Baptista said.
One of Baptista's main requests right now is for more volunteers.
"We need more hands," he said. "We'll train you. If you can help out for an hour on a Saturday, that would be awesome."
To help out, join the Westport Gravestone Cleaning and Restoration Facebook group or email Todd Baptista at TRBent@Charter.net.