Fixing Stones: Our First Solo Expedition

On Thursday, May 30th, Robyn and I gave a marker conservation demonstration to a class of thanatology students from King’s University College. This was their last stop on their tour given by the cemetery’s public historian and archivist team! We wanted to give them a glimpse into how exciting our job is, so we raised a fallen marker near the Hugessen monument. This marker was broken across the middle into two pieces. As they were leaving, we probed near the base of the marker to find a key- but we found something much cooler!

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The base of the gravestone was completely underground

Just below the broken marker, we found a 1.5’ piece of marble that continued straight into the ground! This means that the marker never had a key, and was made long enough to stand freely.

Seeming as we had just learned to fix monuments the day prior, we decided to tackle this stone as our first solo project. We began by digging out the bottom of the stone, while making sure our hole didn’t get too wide. (Don’t want to disturb anything when you’re digging that deep!) Next, we pulled the stone out of the ground, and poured limestone screening in to prevent the marker from sinking in the future. Once this was to our desired height and levelled, we put the marble slab back in the hole, and pressed limestone screening around the sides to keep it from falling forwards or backgrounds. Finally, we covered this with a few inches of topsoil to allow the grass to grow flesh to the stone.

Now that the stone was raised and sturdy, we were ready to put it back together! To start, we had to clean the stones. When they dried, we marked 3 dots along the top with lipstick (in the shade cherry frost!), and pressed the two stones together where they are supposed to meet. This transferred the lipstick to the other stone, to indicate exactly where we’re supposed to drill. We used lipstick because it was in the drill kit, and was standard practice here. However, we soon learned (not really to our surprise…) that lipstick is not good for the stone! It seeps into the stone, and changes its colour to pink! We’ve decided that for all future projects, we will dispose of the lipsticks and use calibers and pencils.

Next, we cut wooden dowels to size and started drilling a couple inches into each mark. You’d think this would be the easiest step, however our drill died after every couple of holes! So, this project involved a lot of driving up to the shed to exchange drill batteries. Once we ~finally~ drilled three holes in each slab of rock, for six in total, we filled the holes with a sealant and pushed the dowels in. The upper piece of rock was small, so it was easy for Robyn to lift it, while I crouched next to it to guide it on top of the dowels. Then, we sandwiched the setting stones between pieces of wood, and pressed them together with a bar clamp.

We let this sit for the night before taking them off and filling the crack between the two pieces with lime mortar. Lime mortar is packaged as a powder, which we add water to until it forms as a paste. This gets smoothed into the crack to seal the stones together. Attentiveness to detail is super important at this stage, because this dries as a stark white colour, so we don’t want it smeared across the marker where it doesn’t need to be. This needs to set for about a day before we can continue working on the marker. Lime mortar can be used to reconstruct parts of the stone, including inscriptions, but only if the person applying it is sure they’re only reconstructing, and not adding new elements. If unsure, that part of the stone should be left alone.

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The finished product! 

Now, because the stone was broken into three pieces, we repeated this process the next day! We finished by reconstructing the top corner of the stone, because we could compare the corners and be 100% sure that we were not adding historical inaccuracies. Once everything is set, dry, and sturdy, we can clean the stone. As much as we wanted to clean while waiting, it was important we kept the mortar moist…but not too moist, to prevent it from running down the stone. So, we used this time to explore nearby stones! Thankfully (depending on how you look at it…), there is always work for us to do! We found and reset two small markers within two meters from the stone during this process.

We look forward to probing and resetting more sunken graves in this small area- it already looks completely different from when we started!

Thank you for following our progress so far this summer! Keep an eye out for more information on our walking tour, which will be held on July 6th, 2019

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