Frederick M. Hueston, PhD  

Stone Care Consultant 

I simply love the south and this was one of those days that reinforced it. I was driving to Tupelo, Mississippi to take a look at a problem with a limestone wall.          

Of course, I’m sure you all know what Tupelo is famous for? That’s right–it’s the birthplace of Elvis Presley. (Thank you very much!) The drive was beautiful and the weather was perfect. 

I arrived at the office building downtown and parked the ole Woody as far away from the building as possible. Why, you might ask? Well, I figured it was the only way this old man was going to get some exercise, so it’s a practice I started a few weeks ago.  

The building was about three stories high but I was puzzled due to the fact that there was no stone on the exterior. The manager of the building told me they had Indiana limestone three stories high with some staining problems that wouldn’t go away. I scratched my head and thought maybe this was his office and we were going to look at another building.

I walked into the lobby and my question was instantly answered. The Indiana limestone was in the interior. The lobby was open all the way up to the third floor and there was a giant wall with large panels of Indiana limestone.  

I walked over to the wall to take a closer look and was startled when a security guard tapped me on the arm and asked, “What are you doing?” 

I told him who I was and who I wanted to see. He asked me to join him at the security desk because I needed to get a visitor’s badge and he would also need to call the building manager.  

For those of you who work in office buildings, you know this is common practice, so I just said, “OK,” and followed him over to the desk.  

As I was signing in, he was on the phone contacting the building manager. He smiled, gave me my badge and told me he would be down in a jiffy.

I went back over to the wall to look for the stains I was told were there. The first thing I noticed was a series of stains on the wall about three feet from the floor. There were about 50 of them running the length of the wall. There didn’t seem to be any stains higher than those three feet or so.  

The stains were dark and I suspected that they were caused by hand oil from people leaning up against the wall. I would have to go back out to my truck to get my stain test kit. 

Just as I was about to leave the building, the building manager came into the lobby. He was a tall gentleman, clean-shaven and kind of looked like the former pro basketball star Larry Bird. For a minute I thought maybe he was. After all, Larry Bird is retired.   

He introduced himself and asked me to come back over to the wall. He said, “The stains have been here for a long time and we have tried every chemical we could think of to remove them, and nothing seems to touch them.”  

I listened carefully and was really puzzled as he mentioned chemicals from acids to alkaline to a number of solvents, as well as pressure washing. This was going to be a hard case to solve, I thought, but after all, I am the Stone Detective. If I can’t figure it out no one can.  

I said, “I will have to perform some tests and will be right back.” 

He told me he would be in his office and to call him when I was done.

I went back out to my truck and grabbed my test kit, some rags, and a spray bottle full of water. Now, when it comes to unknown stains there is a detailed procedure that you must follow so you don’t set the stain. I took out my arsenal of chemicals and started my testing. 

To my surprise, nothing I did was even touching the stain. So, I decided to apply several poultices and allow them to sit overnight and see which one worked.  I called the manager and told him what I did and that I would be back the next day.

Well, that night I went out on the town, found a local pub and ended up getting quite a lesson about the history of Tupelo. The locals told me it was the upholstered furniture capital of the world. I also got to drive by the birth house of Elvis.

The next morning I got up, grabbed some quick breakfast, and headed right over to the building to remove the poultices. I was kind of worried but excited at the same time due to the fact that one of my secret poultices should do the job. 

Well, long story short… none of them worked. Not even a little. Now I was starting to sweat. I have never had a poultice fail on me, at least not without some results. I stepped back and started looking at the wall trying to figure out what the heck was going on. 

Just as I was about to go back out to the truck for some more poultice pouches, this old man came walking out of a door and stopped in front of me. He looked at all the chemicals I had on the floor and looked at me, and then the wall. 

The next thing he said totally floored me...no pun intended. He looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why are you taking all the white wash off the wall?” 

I looked at him and said, “White wash?” He told me that when they were installing this limestone, the architect didn’t like the dark color of the limestone and that he wanted a lighter limestone. There was no time to send the dark limestone back, so they decided to white wash the dark to make it light.   

Well, step on my blue suede shoes and call me a hound dog!  This is one for the books.  As you might have guessed, the stains where nothing more than the white wash being removed. The white wash was applied so diluted to the wall that you could still see the grain of the stone. In other words, it didn’t look painted.   

I called the manager and spent the next half hour explaining that the stains were not stains. I told him he had two choices: remove the white wash on the entire wall or re-whitewash the dark spots. Another case solved, or should I say another lesson learned. Thank you very much. The Stone Detective has left the building.

The Stone Detective is a fictional character created by Fred Hueston, written to be entertaining and educational. He has written over 33 books on stone and tile installations, fabrication and restoration and also serves as an expert for many legal cases across the world. You can send any email comments to him at