Ta for now!

Today we say goodbye, as it is the History team’s last day at Woodland. After a summer filled with research, writing, touring, and monument conservation, we’ve built relationships not only with each other, but also with Woodland and London’s histories.

Our Favourite Moments this Summer

Though I think we will miss all of our deer friends the most, my favourite moment this summer was the walking tour. Despite the sun beating down while Levi and I delivered “Lost & Found,” I really enjoyed sharing stories that aren’t always told. We had an amazing turn out, with more than 100 people in total. The best part was that I wasn’t even that nervous (ha). Along with the tour, working with books more than 150 years old was super neat, especially since we still use some today. Since I, along with Levi occasionally, am the only one working on the research side of Woodland’s history team, I felt honoured to share my discoveries with everyone else who works here. When I would venture out on my walks through the grounds to take photographs of the monuments to use for brochures or social media, our grounds staff would stop me and ask, “any fun history things today?” I’d tell them what I found that week, or share a story of one of our already-researched Woodland folks.

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Hannah’s favourite part of working at Woodland was the comradery and bonds that came with the job. She says:

“It was a really nice experience to do something as a summer job that was interesting, but also had really good people around while we were doing it. My favourite stones would be the very first one that we stood up, which was Frank Chadwick (I talk to him sometimes, it’s fun). And then the one we just put up, Ann Farrell in section Q, because it was such a big challenge. It’s also a testament to how much skill we’ve gained this summer and how much we’ve learned and how much we’ve done.”

(Ann’s stone is one of two 1.5 meter long monuments that were found underground. Hannah and Rachel needed Joey’s Kubota to lift them out of the ground because it was so heavy)

 

Similarly, Rachel says that the friendships she made at Woodland was a highlight of the job:

“My favourite thing about working here this summer was, again like what Hannah said, it was a great environment to be in, we all seemed to get along really well. It was also great being outside, in nature. Not to mention, the problem solving that came with fixing each stone was great because each one was so different. Even though it was over-all the same approach, we’d have little things to change, so working with Hannah to get through these problems as they were rising gave us a new challenge everyday. AND I liked feeding the deer!”

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Looks like I was right about the deer!

What will we do next? Hannah is moving on to Ottawa to pursue teacher’s college at UOttawa, and there’s no doubt that she’ll run in to Rachel, who will be completing her Architecture Engineering degree this year at Carleton. As for me, well I’ll still be in London. I’m staying at Western for one more year to get my Master of Arts in Art History.

Ta for now,

Leah

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Picturing the Dead: Victorian-Era Mourning and Post-Mortem Photography

Before I get started, let me define some terms I will use in this blog post:

Daguerreotype: a photograph taken by a long-exposure camera that was invented by Louis-Jaques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839. The camera produces a positive image, meaning that it can never be reproduced unless it is re-photographed or scanned. In contrast, a negative image (like the ones from a disposable Kodak) can be infinitely reproduced because of its filmstrip.

Post-Mortem Photograph: a photo taken of someone after they have died.

Spirit Photograph: a photo taken in order to capture the image of a ghost or spirit.

Hidden-Mother Photography: a photo taken of a deceased infant held by their mother because their body would have been too weak to be propped up alone. The mother would wear a black veil and black clothing so that she would be undetectable (to some degree) in the photograph.

Aura: A term used by Walter Benjamin in his 1935 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” that refers to the unique presence of an artwork that viewers experience by seeing a work in real life. The same “aura” can apply for daguerreotype photography. The aura is weakened when a work is reproduced, according to Benjamin.

Weegee: A tabloid photographer who worked in the mid 1900s. He would sit in his car with a police radio waiting for tips so he could take the first photos of New York City’s latest scandals and tragedies.

 

Post-Mortem Photography in History

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As you may already know from our post and self-guided tour about Victorian-era mourning customs, the 1800s saw tragedy and death far too often. Disease and infection increased death rates, and it was common for children to die before turning five. Obviously devastated, parents wanted to remember what little they knew of their children, so they employed photographers to capture their image one last time before sending them to their graves. The children were dressed in their finest attire and were posed carefully to maintain the integrity of their forms. In some cases, an infant would be propped up with a post, or held by their mother who wore a black veil. Once the daguerreotype photographs finished developing, the artistic photographer would paint eyes onto the child’s eyelids and add some blush tones to their cheeks (colour photography was not widely popular in the 1800s because of its intricate process and high costs). The goal was to make the child appear alive again. Though this post-mortem photography process seems morbid today, what with painting eyelids and such, the images brought comfort and closure to those who lost their loved ones back in the 1800s.

Perhaps even more eerie is the comparison of post-mortem photography to spirit photography. We know that the daguerreotype is a positive image. It cannot be reproduced; therefore, it has an aura. What if within this aura was the spirit of the deceased person in the picture? The same can be asked about an urn full of ashes on one’s fireplace mantle. What vessel is required to house a spirit? A body? A visual memento? Families hoped to not only capture an image but to capture their child’s essence in their post-mortem photographs.

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Considering the fact that the Victorians were fascinated with immortality (think gothic horror stories like Frankenstein or Dracula), post-mortem photography makes sense. According to Nancy M. West’s essay, “Camera Fiends: Early Photography, Death, and the Supernatural,” the Victorians believed that young children were not spiritually developed. West writes: “very few photographs were taken in those days of infants or children, since the precariousness of their lives evoked superstitions that representation could indeed destroy existence.” In death, the opportunity for representation was attainable; the photograph took the place of one’s everlasting body.

 

Post-mortem photography more recently

Post-mortem photography has gone through a couple shifts in attitude and reception from the public. In the mid- to late-1900s, mothers were expected to forget their stillborn children. They were not encouraged to name them, let alone to look at them or to take photos of them. Today, stillborn photography can be considered helpful in the mourning process, like it was in the 1800s. Visually, contemporary post-mortem images are much different though. The children aren’t meant to look alive or reborn, instead they are captured as they are with innocence and acceptance. Images provide parents with representation and confirmation of their relationship with their child, especially when the world around them discounts their parenthood on the basis of little time served.

In our current digital age, these post-mortem mementos come with a lot of controversies, mostly because of our access to social media and obsession with sharing intimate moments with millions of strangers. There’s a line where the difference between memorialization and spectacularization gets cloudy. To many, sharing an image of a deceased child is considered offensive or even violent. Personally, I believe that everyone grieves differently. If someone wants to keep their stillborn photographs private, that is their prerogative. Similarly, if they want to share their stories with the world, they should feel comfortable doing so. In either case, acknowledging one’s grievance is healthy and could help someone else who is going through the same process.

 

Picturing the deceased body as spectacularized object

Now that I’ve discussed photography as a medium for memorialization, I’ll conclude this post by BRIEFILY touching on photography as it is used to document the dead. When I write “document,” I mean the act of producing a photograph for the purpose of proof and documentary, not for memorialization. There is a criticism that picturing the dead body as an outsider is not conducive to anyone’s mourning or healing, which runs extra deep if the pictured person’s face is not covered. In order to prevent the spectacularization of death, the face or body must be covered with some type of veil. Again, the line of respectful versus disrespectful representation can get blurry. Consider Weegee’s 1940 tabloid photograph, Dead Body on Cobblestone Street.The body is literally covered by a newspaper that is sure to eventually detail the person’s death in its bulletin. While this photo isn’t one of memorialization like many post-mortem mourning photographs, it is a testament to the evolution of and relationship between photography and the deceased. If one has a personal relationship with the person depicted, then more respect is applied. The opposite is true if the photographer has some degree of separation from their subject. I could get into the complexities of photography regarding complicit viewing and empathy, but for the sake of brevity, I encourage you to read two essays. The first is Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others” and the second is Kimberly Juanita Brown’s “Regarding the Pain of the Other: Photography, Famine, and the Transference of Affect.” Both put the viewer in front of the mirror, forcing us to contemplate our role as observers of unfamiliar, shocking imagery.

 

So, what do you think? Are post-mortem photographs creepy, or could they offer healing in ways unlike traditional memorialization?

Cutting History Short (But Being Respectful About It)

My week in a nutshell

This week, I’ve been working on creating short audio stories out of our Lost and Found audio walk. It’s proving to be a bit trickier than I thought it would be. It feels like I’m trying to squeeze something huge and expansive into a small box. There’s so much I want to say about Esther Barnes, for example, the resourceful woman who ran an east London brothel (at the site in the Google Maps photo above), who was sentenced to the maximum sentence at the time, and who fought back against a moral crackdown on sex labor.

When I’m trying to work through an issue, I tend to write out my thoughts. Some of the best advice I’ve received through my studies is the power of writing. Whenever I’m stuck or need to figure something out, I’ll sit myself down for about 20 minutes and just write. I might not find an answer, but it gives me somewhere to jump off from and I usually end up in a better place than when I started.

There’s a lot to tell – I should mention why she opened her brothel, but how far into that story of her husband’s death do I go? It would be great to talk about her legal battle with East London, but it would take a good while to go through all the important bits there. Unless, of course, I want to be a bit reductive of her landmark case.

Reducing the story to a nice simmer

I guess that’s what this issue boils down to – being reductive. I don’t want to make it seem like this incredibly powerful life and its stories can be captured in a five-minute audio clip, that it can be crammed into 400 words and posted online. But I also want people to listen, to hear this story and resonate with it. And I feel like the way to get people to listen is to make these stories punchy, quick, and exciting!

It’s funny – I ended up following my own advice, the words that I said to Leah when I was recording her weaving the Barnes tale. I told her to imagine that she’s sitting at a dimly-lit bar – there’s a jazz musician tickling the ivories softly in the background, to set the comfy-but-intriguing atmosphere. I told her to imagine that she’s telling the story to a friend at this bar, and that her friend is incredibly interested but must leave soon to catch a bus.

A crowded bar in New York with lots of pictures on the wall.

What important bits would she want to include? How would she keep her friend interested? Striking the balance between speaking conversationally and being respectful of history and the truth of the case would be very important. And it’s just as important when I’m making this audio walk, as it’s more-or-less fixed in time and space – a little more permanent than knowledge passed out on a walking tour (but no more important!). I can’t tell the whole story, but I can make sure that what I tell is a curated selection of the highs, lows, and happenings of the lives of Esther Barnes and Emma Wilson.

I’m not in this alone

And, I’ve got to say, it helps to remember that this audio walk is not the last word in the history of these lives. It’s not even close! This is a specific project for a cemetery, so I should focus on what stories I can best tell in that context and keep it as accessible as I can. Thankfully, there are many others who have told these stories, some of them in much more expansive ways than I want to. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more exciting adventures into the baffling world of digitally preserving history.

How Can We Re-Animate Woodland Cemetery?

Our dead stories don’t have to stay dead.

We’re going full Frankenstein mode on stories.

Cemeteries are such interesting places to stroll through – this is the first surprising fact that I’ve learned in my first few weeks working at Woodland. There’s something oddly thrilling about walking among the headstones, monuments, and carvings and thinking of all the different lives that have ended up here in this space together.

Woodland’s historic sections are host to an absurdly high number of lives lived. The only caveat to this lived history is that so much of it is dead – by that, I mean that we’re only telling the stories as we read about them in our (mostly logistical) records and secondary sources from places like the London Room or the Western Archives. They live on paper and in digital documents and are only dusted off when we host our public walking tours like our “Lost and Found” tour that took place last Saturday.

Our dead stories don’t have to stay that way. Like Dr. Frankenstein or Herbert West show, dead things don’t necessarily have to stay dead. They can be brought back to life with the help of a little creativity and technology. I’ve been turning this idea around the last few days and have come up with some ideas to help bring Woodland’s stories back to life – hopefully not as chillingly as is done so in horror literature!

Cemetery tour guides at the ready.

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Historian Leah Abaza tells the stories of the Mitchell family and their mysterious memorial to those unknown dead that were transferred from old St Paul’s Cemetery to Woodland.

Historical walking tours are being done already – my mentor Levi Hord has been putting these together for the last few years, walking the public through the stories of Woodland. The stories of some influential women who rest in the cemetery, for example, are brought back to life in “Women of Woodland” – they live through our interpretations and representations of their lives. We remember and thus reanimate them by sharing their stories with London’s communities. Groups can book these tours, but what if our resident historian isn’t around to deliver or, what if a group prefers to walk through the cemetery at their own speed? That brings us to…

The mechanical voice tells many tales…

Guided walking tours bring Woodland’s stories to life. But we don’t always need a physical body to tell these stories. We can use speakers and headphones to stand in for vocal chords, creating audio walks. These recorded stories can tell a fixed, predetermined version of a grave’s history as many times as needed without getting tired from talking or walking. In short, the listener becomes the tour guide as they follow cues and take themselves through the winding path of the cemetery. Digital recording techniques also allow us to play around with sound effects, music, and special guests who might be otherwise be unable to come to every tour. But how can we make these audio recordings multi-dimensional? How can we interest our community beyond telling them to press play and listen to a drowned-out voice telling a linear history? The solution could be…

Theatre among the graves.

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The dead walk the streets during the London Fringe’s Lost Soul Stroll in 2013. Photo by the London Free Press / Mike Hensen.

Theatre can take the better sides of both walking and audio tours. They are embodied by a physical person who quite literally brings a historical person back to life through acting them out. But the fact of being a theatre allows for some production values and storytelling ability that audio tours can’t offer. Imagine walking around the cemetery and coming across John Labatt, for instance. Imagine interacting with Mr. Labatt and having him respond back to you! While logistically tricky to organize due to the number of bodies involved, this seems to me to be an incredible way to reanimate history and allow it to exist in the physical world one last time.

What about you? Any ideas?

Can you think of any other ways to animate our cemetery or have you come across any interesting and relevant media pieces? Let me know in the comments below, through our Facebook page, or by email. This list is not extensive and only represents a small fraction of the reanimation possibilities. Thanks for reading!

An Unexpected Update on the Scottish Cemetery…

All summer, our monument conservation students Rachel and Hannah have been taking care of upkeep of the Scottish Cemetery site, which you may remember we uncovered last summer. Thanks to the work of last year’s monument team, these stones are now visible to the public and rest in a limestone screening at the site where they were unearthed. Having done as much research as we thought we could, at the time, we made an archive of these stones and their inscriptions (which you can find here) and we compared this to a record of burials at St. Andrew’s Cemetery taken by local historian (and one-time president of the Ontario Genealogical Society) Leslie Grey in 1955.

This was all of the information we expected to find – after all, it’s pretty hard to access information about a cemetery that no longer technically exists, and we had exhausted our sources at the London Room and other archives in the city.

Yesterday morning, Leah and I were doing a little organization within our two vaults of archives, taking a catalogue of our resources, and making sure everything was in place. Imagine our surprise when we opened up a book that had been hiding on one of our back shelves only to discover that we held the original hand-written burial registers for St. Andrew’s, which were likely given to Woodland when the graves were moved in the 50s.

Now, this didn’t really give us any new information, per se – we knew the basic details of those who were buried there already. But shoved inside the front cover were about 19 sheets of type-written legal paper, laid out like this…

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This record, which doesn’t contain a date or the name of the person who prepared it, is a grave-by-grave stock-taking of the First St. Andrew’s churchyard cemetery, and most importantly, the column on the right provides details abour the family, such as spelling of names, brief lineages, where the family is from, if they have members buried in other places, stories of their lives or deaths (if they were particularily interesting), and the names, addresses, and phone numbers of their (then)-living descendants.

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In the above examples, you can see statements like “these two were cousins” or “this person was involved in the founding of the church” or “we think they moved to Stratford” or “we don’t know who this was, but definitely not from this family!” This isn’t usually the type of information that cemeteries usually keep on hand, and it certainly isn’t the type we collect.

More than that, a lot of the information seems to be speculative. On several pages, the transcriber notes “I could not find anyone who knew the family,” suggesting that they were going around London seeking out the living and having real conversations with these people about their family history. Based on one date included in the papers, we can place this after 1950, and it might be likely that these were prepared by Leslie Grey as well, who we know had a passion for preserving the history of FSA.

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These papers are incrediby interesting for me, mostly due to the image they furnish of someone walking around London and personally getting in touch with families, asking these questions, and recording the answers as something of import. London was obviously a smaller community at the time, which is what allowed this person to make reference to “the Bell family on Oxford Street” and have that make total sense within the cultural lexicon (whereas I would have to do a bit of digging to find out who that family would have been).

Is this something that we could do today? Is it something we should be doing? London is a bigger city, and we quite often run up against important privacy laws when collecting information as a cemetery. However, it does mean that we rarely see the creation of more personal records such as these.

 

History in a “Post-Truth” Age

Another striking thing about these records is the fact that a lot of the facts recorded are admitted as conjectures. The phrase “I think” appears several times, and the transcriber alludes to being told things by family members personally. None of it is actually cross referenced to any outside source. Should we treat this record the same way that we treat our burial records, which is to say as the closest we can come to knowing the factual truth of our history?

In today’s world, we’re caught up in an important debate about fact, “fake news,” and what we can consider “truth”. As a society, we privilege objective fact – that’s why the first place we look when we’re researching are governmental documents, birth records, death records, anything “official”. We put stock and trust in these to give us an accurate picture of a life. And yet the stories we remember, and the stories we tell on our tours, are more likely to come from documents like this, or from newspaper accounts, or accounts that descendants of families continue to bring to us. Some would say this makes them less factual, and therefore less valuable. But some would say that the little fascinating tidbits of information like this are what makes the story worth telling, and what translates it into more than just names and dates.

It also makes me wonder how the history we’re creating today will be treated in the future. The things recorded in this document, in the sense that they are personal accounts, are the things that we might find on our Facebook pages in the future. Do you think that we should treat this record differently in terms of validity and truth than we might, in the future, treat a Facebook post as historical record? Or are their important differences in intent?

 

Bad Recordkeeping?

Perhaps the other moral of the story is not to judge an archive by its cover! We often wish our earlier counterparts had been a bit more careful with where and how they stored things – this is hardly the first time we’ve stumbled across a juicy / incredibly valuable find stuffed haphazardly between book pages. For a place like Woodland, this could have once been practical – for example, we often find handwritten letters from familiies about their plots, and these are kept in our plot books, where they once would have been most useful to those running the cemetery (long before we came to conside them historical artifacts)!

As the current custodians of Woodland Cemetery’s history, we need to be careful not to repeat the same mistakes. We may think that we’re recording something in a useful way, but will it be accessible to future generations once we’re not around to give context or explain it? Will people be able to search our archives and find what they need? The answer, for Woodland at least, is currently “no” – which is why we’re putting so much effort into doing a thorough catalogue of all of the historial material we have in our vault. It’s only been 139 years – I think it’s about time!

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If anyone else is keeping track of the St. Andrew’s graves and would like a digital copy of this record (which includes more personal information than the transcriptions of the stones which we previously published), let us know by commenting below!

-Levi

Monument Conservation in the Chadwick Family Lot

In the past weeks, Hannah and Rachel have been hard at work uncovering monuments for our walking tour, but they have returned to an earlier project from the beginning of the summer. In their first two days at Woodland, Hannah and Rachel pulled up a few stones in the Chadwick family lot, those belonging to Catherine, Eliza Florence, Frank, and John. After pulling the stones up, they cleaned them and prepared them for re-laying and rising. This can be done a couple of ways. One is to simply use an epoxy, which acts as a glue in order to fit the pieces together like a puzzle. Epoxy comes with a slight caveat though—it has a lifespan of about 25 years. This means that after 25 years, the epoxy will start to deteriorate before failing completely. In some cases, the epoxied pieces might even break off again. Another more extensive, yet more durable way is to pin the pieces back together. Pinning involves drilling holes on the inside surfaces of both pieces, making sure to line them up perfectly so that the fibreglass rods can slide into place. Then, a limestone mortar fills the gaps to hold the pieces together and the rods in place. After either method, the stones must cure for a few days, being held together by an adjustable strap and clamps. Once they are dry, the stones are ready for rising or re-laying.

Last Thursday, Hannah and Rachel raised Catherine’s monument with some help from Joey. It went up almost without difficulty. Since the stone was broken into pieces, it was quite fragile. As Joey and Hannah lowered the stone into its key, a small piece of the corner broke off. Luckily, the piece was not of substantial size or weight and could be reattached using an epoxy instead of having to remove the entire stone for re-pinning. As you can imagine, this process requires collaboration and teamwork. Hannah, Rachel, and Joey all had to move in sync with each other so that the 200lbs+ stone did not fall. Once the monument was upright, they supported it using clamps, shovels, and wooden horses. You might be thinking, a shovel to support a heavy stone? Since the shovel can be inserted into the ground, it actually provided extra stability to the stone as it cured over the weekend (not to mention, they kept the deer from knocking the stone over). Wooden horses were also used to keep the area contained just in case the supports failed.

The Chadwick lot is a rather special one for Hannah and Rachel. It was their very first project of the summer and also the lot where they learned all of the skills required to uncover the rest of the monuments this summer. Hannah says, “It was really great to finally see a finished product from one of our large projects. Rising the stone was quite fulfilling and it feels like we really are on our way to preserving history.” As you may recall from previous blog posts, this “preservation of history” we keep mentioning is really the core of our work this summer. If our team had not visited the Chadwick lot, if they had not raised Catherine’s monument, then memories might have been lost in the ground forever. The grass might have grown over them; the earth might have started to cover them. Now, these stones are ready to stand for another 100 years.

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Catherine Chadwick’s monument after it was raised. It was then supported by clamps, shovels, and wooden horses over the weekend while setting.

Announcing our 2018 Walking Tour…

We’re excited to announce our 2018 public walking tour!
Lost & Found: Untold Stories from Woodland’s “Potter’s Fields”
Join us on July 7th, 2018 (tours at 1:00pm and 3:00pm) to learn about a different side of London’s history, and different approach to preserving memories.

Find our Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2122261978055835/

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We will be telling the stories of some of those buried in Woodland’s (and old St. Paul’s Cemetery’s) “Potter’s Fields”: those who were buried without much thought about how to preserve their memory for future generations. These people were often living in poverty, in institutions, were recent immigrants to the city, or met unfortunate ends. Their lives and stories, however, were just as vibrant as any of London’s founding families. Through our research and monument preservation work, we will be bringing some of this history to light.

This tour will help us understand more about the politics of memorialization, including whose stories we choose to remember and why.

Where: Woodland Cemetery, 493 Springbank Drive, London, ON
Cost: FREE
Parking is available on the cemetery grounds.
Walking tours will last approx. 1 to 1.5 hours.
Please bring a water bottle and sun protection.
Walking tours will include some uneven terrain; please let us know if you require any accommodation.

Stay tuned for more information upcoming!

Insane or in Vain: Woodland’s “Poor Grounds” and the London Asylum for the Insane

This week I write about the London Asylum for the Insane because of its prevalence in my research about the Victorian-era “poor grounds.” In our historical records there is usually a home address; however, for many who are buried in the “poor grounds,” the asylum is listed. Though this information is not of public concern today, it is worthwhile to speculate why it would have been recorded previously and why the asylum would have been noted instead of one’s permanent address. Did these people have homes? Did they have families? If not, why? Here is a little history about the asylum:

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Photograph taken July 28, 2012 by Londononbridge. The former London Asylum would have been located at 850 Highbury Avenue. Still standing is the main examination building and infirmary.

In 1870, London introduced its first Asylum. It was a place for the disorderly, the insane, and the poor. As one of the first institutions to treat mental illness in Ontario, the London Asylum for the Insane was revolutionary. Within days, their 500 beds were full.

Located outside of the city center, the asylum initially focused on compassionate care and moral therapy. Their intent was to treat the patient as a whole being rather than focusing on a single symptom. As the Science Museum’s History of Medicine department in England describes, a “patient had a better chance of recovery if treated like a child rather than an animal.” These treatment plans suggested that rural seclusion and social conformity were the keys to one’s mental health. Patients would be “bettered” as members of society, fitting in with the community by keeping steady jobs and following strict social norms, thus curing their mental illnesses. I imagine that suppressing one’s sense of individuality in favour of conformity would be counterproductive to improving mental health today. However, I theorize that those who were subjected to moral therapy and compassionate care in the nineteenth century would have been happy to conform. Considering their society’s views on health at the time, where compliancy meant sanity and sanity was the ultimate goal, one’s sense of belonging would have been paramount.

Doctors at the asylum also performed several experimental surgeries. In fact Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, who believed failed reproductive organs to be the source of mental illness or “hysteria” in women, executed routine hysterectomies. Moving into the 1930s, shock therapy was introduced to treat symptoms of schizophrenia by inducing seizures. Lobotomies were also completed between 1944 and 1967; though we do not know how many were performed in London, there were about 1 000 between these 23 years across Ontario.

One reason that someone would be sent to the asylum includes sexual deviation. What is shockingly expectant is that masturbation was identified as the root cause of a majority of mental illnesses. Dr. Bucke thought he had remedied this “self-abuse” by inserting a metal wire into the foreskin of a man’s penis so that masturbation was too painful and uncomfortable. Dr. Bucke did not know that masturbation is actually a positive action for sexual health and is not the cause of mental illness, as he would later discover after 11 failed attempts of reversing “self-abuse.”

You will find that The London Asylum for the Insane went through a few name changes which all reflect changing attitudes and discoveries about mental health. The first renaming occurred in 1932 resulting in the “Ontario Hospital for the Mentally Ill, London.” Years later in 1968, the name changed to “London Psychiatric Hospital” and again in 2001 to “Regional Mental Health Care” until finally closing in 2014. These name changes are crucial in removing the stigma from mental illness. When we hear “asylum,” we imagine screaming patients running down halls before being locked in their prison-like cells. Using the term “care” is much more empathetic and agentic. In the early days of the LAI, living with a mental illness was shameful. Some families even mourned a member’s committal as though they had actually died. For this reason, some of the people who did die at the Asylum were destined for the “poor grounds” at the Woodland Cemetery.

For more information and an extended history of the London Asylum for the Insane, check out these links:

https://www.lib.uwo.ca/archives/virtualexhibits/londonasylum/index.html

http://explorationproject.org/london-insane-asylum/

The Research Begins!

As mentioned in the first blog post of the summer, my research will focus on the city burial grounds of Woodland Cemetery from the mid- to late-nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. My findings will then be translated into a walking tour that will take place at the beginning of July. The city burial areas of the cemetery have had a few different names including “pauper’s graves,” “potter’s fields,” and “poor grounds,” all of which reflect a rather stigmatized society. Again, these graves would have been the resting places of those who could not afford or were deemed unworthy of a proper Christian burial. We can find those who died by suicide, those whose professions were untraditional or lack-lustre (read: sex workers and labourers), or those who were detained at the Asylum buried here. When I write, “find,” it is important to note that we truly do have to search for these people. Their markers are often covered by the earth or completely nonexistent. Hannah and Rachel, our Monument Conservators, are tasked with probing the grounds and lifting up any stones that they might find beneath the surface before cleaning and re-placing them. Even our archival records show little evidence of these burials beyond their scribbled names.

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You can see here where a stone has been partially covered by the grass.

Given that most burials at the time followed an elaborate Victorian tradition, where intricate monuments and flamboyant ceremonies memorialized loved ones, the city burial grounds provide a stark contrast. The stones that we do find are plain, showing only a name and date of death sans decorative furnishings or carved details. If we consider the social and political climates of the 1800s these findings, or lack there of, are expected. It was not uncommon for a family to banish a member for their shameful “insanity” or for their crimes, leaving that person without any next-of-kin. We should keep in mind that abandonment and banishing, of course, are not the case for all city burials at the time and there is no universal narrative that can speak for each person or family. Sometimes, the city would bury a person who had immigrated to Canada without any friends or family, someone who started a new life by themself here in London.

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This marker was completely underground. Hannah and Rachel probed the soil and after hearing a faint “clink” they knew that there was something to dig up! You can even see the soil  that was imprinted from the marker’s lettering. Note the lack of ornament on the stone– this was typical for city burials.

A difficult task that I have encountered in my research is determining which people to feature on our walking tour. Since there is a lack of information about most of the people who were given city burials, it is tough to determine an all-inclusive story. We do have records of a man who was charged on multiple accounts for physically and emotionally abusing his partner. He is one of the few people on my list that have extensive records. The question is, do we want to feature someone who acted so aggressively simply because he is the only person about whom we have lots of information? How do we tell the stories of these “paupers” without romanticising crime and violence? Should a “full story” include the dark sides of humanity? Perhaps more productive would be to tell the story of his wife. This way, we can lessen the margin for victimization in order to present a more supportive recounting of events. We could also use this man’s story as representative of a bigger picture, one that promotes healthy relationships and resilience. At the end of the day, regardless of his crimes, the man of this story was someone who fell to the human condition of imperfection. He is still worthy of acknowledgement and remembrance. No matter which way we decide to present our research, the stories of the city burial grounds are going to be difficult to tell, but I look forward to investigating everything that makes London’s history so rich. I encourage you to also think about how we determine which memories are preserved and how we go about doing so.

If you have any input or suggestions that could help me in my research, I invite you to leave a comment!

— Leah

Introducing the Woodland Cemetery’s Summer 2018 Team!

The Woodland Cemetery’s Summer 2018 team is here with new faces! For the next three (ish) months, Hannah Foulds, Rachel Sharp, and Leah Abaza will tackle some of Woodland’s deeply buried histories. While Leah researches the records and archives, Hannah and Rachel will probe the grounds to uncover some of the lost memories that need a little love.

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Left to right: Rachel Sharp, Leah Abaza, Hannah Foulds

As Monument Conservators, Hannah and Rachel’s job is to find monuments that have been missing underground after falling over and sinking below the grass-covered surface. They will then lift the monuments out of the ground (with some help from Joey) and clean them. From here, they will repair monuments that have breaks or cracks using various tools like epoxy, limestone screening, and fibreglass rods. Once the repairs are finished, it is time to either stand the monuments upright or to ensure that they are safely secured on the ground. Conserving these stones is a large part of what will allow them to stand the test of time. Imagine what a year’s worth of debris and weathering can do to a stone outside; now, imagine how a few decades could impact the same stones if the proper care is not applied. So far, Hannah and Rachel have found more than ten monuments underground and have restored them to near perfection!

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This stone was found buried underground, covered in dirt, and in pieces. Hannah and Rachel cleaned the stone, then put it back together using an epoxy and fibreglass rods. Now it is waiting to dry before the next pieces can be added!

Leah will be working in the office to provide Hannah and Rachel with some starting points for their monument probing. To kick-start the Summer research, she will look into the individuals who were buried in city lots, formerly known as “free ground,” “potter’s fields,” and “pauper’s graves.” These are the resting places of people who were considered either unworthy of proper Christian burial or who could not afford family lots in the 1800s to the early 1900s. It is important to recognize these individuals because doing so emphasizes respect and empathy as integral not only to the mourning processes of any denomination, but to general human interaction and compassion.

Join us as we document the summer’s projects right here on the Woodland Cemetery History blog!

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