Secrets of the Gravestones!

During our time at Woodland, we have come across many odd little happenings that we would not have noticed in the cemetery without working here. For example, we met a small squirrel that crawled up our (clothed) legs and opted for a ride on our backpacks. We also watched a deer give birth, which was the coolest, but perhaps not the best lunchtime entertainment. And, we recently realized the purple markings on our white marble monuments is actually mulberry bird poop. We’ve had daily, if not hourly, instances where we’ve exclaimed something along the lines of “what! that’s so cool!” And, we’ve even had a few moments where we’ve flipped over a monument to be reset, only to uncover something even cooler on the back.

Marion Phillips’s gravestone, 1851.

We found our first monument surprise while preparing the stones for Meagan and Thomas’ tour, “A Newcomer’s Guide to Resting in Woodland.” This mainly involved cleaning the monuments they planned to talk about, but we also wanted to reset a monument that had fallen directly in front of a tour stop, Thomas Phillips, M.D. Upon edging and pulling the grass back from the stone, we realized it was the daughter of Phillips, Marion Phillips, who died in 1851. The entire monument was there but broken into three pieces, so we initially thought we would raise it again. That was until we realized this was the coolest stone we’ve ever seen!

While we were scrubbing away at the stone, Robyn started freaking out in excitement- the stone had carved faces in the bottom! She had initially thought the unfamiliar patterns were from root markings, but soon recognized them as ‘carver doodles.’ There are two full faces, complete with eyes and lips, and an extra set of lips to the left of them carved into the bottom of the stone. This monument was a long slab of marble without a key, which meant at least a foot of it was to be buried underground to anchor it. Apparently, when a carver knew that a portion of the stone was to be buried and hidden from sight, they would practice lettering, or in our case just doodle, on that portion of the stone.

Because this was unprecedented in any of the stones we found, it was quickly decided that the historical significance of these doodles outweighed our original desire to erect this stone. Instead, we filled the hole where it laid with limestone screening, and placed in back on top. This way, everyone can enjoy the carver’s doodles. If you want to find them, they are along the road in the back of Section S, to the west of the large ornamental sandstone ring cross) monument. They are most evident when you angle a flashlight across or pour water on them.

Robyn and I found our next monument with a secret in section EC, one of Woodland’s old children’s sections, while we were randomly edging up tablets while waiting to get our drill. I noticed a tablet to ‘Baby Sloman’ was stained green and on its way to becoming sunken, so I decided to pull it up to pack limestone screening underneath and dig out a frame for it. But much to our delight, there were inscriptions on the back!

The monument had crystal clear iconography of a lamb underneath a willow, and it read, ‘IN memory of SARAH Daughter of,’ before it broke off in a perfectly straight line. We think that the carver discarded Sarah’s stone, for unknown reasons, and recycled the slab of marble to use the front! I get the logic, why not reuse material if it’s going to sit as a tablet in the ground, anyways? This sitting in the dirt is actually why the iconography was persevered so well. Even though Sloman’s stone was erected in 1912, the back was protected by dirt and obviously not exposed to the regular substances that stain marble stones in the air.

Unfortunately, since the nature of a tablet only allows one side to be showing at once, we had to rebury the back of the monument. The good news however is that we were able to document this, so that all of you lovely people can see it on the Internet, instead!

Strange zig-zags on Maurice Baker’s stone, 1853.

On one of our final gravestones, we found another little carver doodle in the form of some squiggles. They are fairly uniform, but do not appear on both sides of the stone so are likely from a tool, rather than being lifted by machinery, etc. This could have been carved on the stone before it was a gravestone, or maybe was the result of the carver testing their tools? This particular stone was carved by one Mr. Thomas Francis, a gravestone carver here in London. If only he was still around to ask about this!

Our final gravestone surprise was occurred while we worked on the many fallen monuments lining the south end of Section K. We decided to work in this area mainly because it was shaded by a tree on either side, so we had coverage throughout the entire day, but also because this was along the tour route, and we had decided to give our demonstration here.

Contemporary hidden writing!

While we were primarily working on older stones, I also realized that there was a sunken granite tablet, which turned out to be from 1983. We have no idea how it sunk a few inches underground in such a short time frame! I needed the assistance of Thomas to help me pull the tablet out of its hole, because granite is a heavy material, and the tablet was quite large in a cement frame. We flipped it onto the grass, and realized there was black writing on the back! This indicated the size of the stone, and that the maker of the monument was Ideal Monuments. This seems like a rather mundane discovery, but this was the only time we had ever come across this! Usually tablets are straight and flat across the back, with no indication of where they came from. Standing monuments, on the contrary, sometimes list the carver on the front of the bottom on Victorian Era monuments, and on the back of newer monuments.

The results of a rusted pin…

There are a few secrets to the ‘typical’ stones we’ve worked on, too. First, many of the multilayered marble stones have metal rods that connect the pieces together. However, many of these rods have eroded, and only gravity holds the stones up. When we drilled wooden pins into stones, we make our own holes, as the old ones are too wide for us and have metal bits left them. And finally, most of the marble stones we’ve pulled out of the ground have peculiar dirt patterns covering the side facing down. This is because of all the ant tunnels! We’ve unfortunately learned that ants like to nest, and make egg pools right underneath stones. As a result of this, we’re usually cautious to raise stones, quickly looking to see if any ants are too close for comfort!

Isn’t it amazing, what secrets can lie just below the surface? Gravestone hold more than just information about the people they memorialize, they carry the personalities and work of their carvers, family ties and faiths, personal interests, history, and sometimes clues about the environment in which they stand. We feel extremely lucky to be the first people to see some of these ‘cemetery secrets’ in decades, and we hope you have enjoyed learning about them with us!

Perfectly Preserved: Baby Ida Grace

This summer we have uncovered and rest many gravestones that belonged to infants or children. Unfortunately, due to high mortality rates in the past, this is not all together unusual. This doesn’t make it any less jarring when a stone comes out of the ground and we see the tell-tale lamp carving, or see the abbreviations of ‘months’ and ‘days’ at the base of the stone. Through our work here at Woodland, we are happy to have been able to raise many infant stones and remind people of these young individuals who didn’t get to experience a full life, and perhaps a little of what life was like back then.

Today’s post is about a gravestone that has been near to our hearts all summer long, that of baby Ida Grace Laing. We uncovered her stone at the northeast side of Section R, near the tall granite monument with the polished ball on the top, near the beginning of our time at the cemetery. Like many of the small gravestones we have worked with over the last eight weeks, Ida’s stone was completely underground. Luckily, Brienna is the queen of finding buried monuments like these, and while probing a row with a suspicious break in it, came across the stone!

Once we knew there was a stone there, we started the exciting task of edging and uncovering the stone. This is always the most exciting part, because we have no idea what we are going to find below the sod layer…will it be a natural rock, a tree root, a section marker or pin (ugh not again), or a stone? Will the stone be intact? Will it have a key? Will it even need one?? It’s always a surprise!

When we peeled back the sod, a wonderful sight befell our eyes…the perfectly preserved and intact gravestone of Ida Grace, complete with a tiny lamb on the top, barely weathered inscription, and to our delight, no major staining. It is likely that the stone sunk or was covered fairly quickly after it fell over (or was laid down), and biological grown or chemical weathering were not given the opportunity to discolour of otherwise adversely affect the surface of the stone. This is wonderful news, and meant that when we cleaned the stone it would come out beautifully.

D2, water, and a little elbow grease, and Ida’s stone was cleaned without too much trouble. If you look in the photos, you’ll see that the base of the stone has a tab sticking out of it. That was set into the original key, which we were unfortunately unable to locate in the area. Instead, we decided to have a new key made from cement! This does not mean cementing gravestones in place. This is a bad idea and is detrimental to the stone.

Preparing the key was a relatively simple process. Joey made a simple wood frame, and we used the measurements of the frame to dig a hole in the ground for it to be set. We dug farther than the base of the key would sit, in order to fill the hole with limestone screening to help keep it level and provide drainage. One the frame was in place, cement from the bucket of the back-hoe was shoveled in, and a little mould was screwed in place to create the slot for the gravestone. This piece was covered in plastic, so it could easily be removed from the cement after it had set.

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Joey, putting cement in the frame. Ida’s gleaming white stone is in the centre of the image!

Two days later we returned to the area, and removed the mould. Unfortunately the cement wasn’t completely dry yet, so we would have to wait a little longer before we could reset the stone completely! While it could probably have been set at that point, we didn’t want to take any chances with the gravestone leaning and putting unnecessary pressure on the tacky cement, potentially causing it to crack and/or fail.

Luckily we only had to wait 2 more days before the cement was cured enough to work with! To set Ida’s stone, we mixed limestone mortar and applied it to the slot in the newly-made key. Then, we carefully lifted Ida’s stone and lowered it into the slot. The stone was then braced on both sides (once we checked that it was level of course) and left to dry. After the limestone had dried, we used some more mortar to point the base of the stone to prevent water from getting inside…and voila! Ida Grace’s stone was finished! Her inscription reads:

In Memory
of
IDA GRACE
Infant Daughter
of
George & Caroline Laing.
DIED
Aug. 29. 1872,
AE 1 yr 2 Mo’s & 4 Dys
________
Suffer little children to come
unto me, and forbid them not.
Luke. XVIII. 16

Powell & Son.

As always, thank you for reading and following along with our conservation journeys at Woodland Cemetery! If you are interested in visiting Ida, or any of the stones we have talked about on the blog, staff at Woodland would be happy to assist you in locating their graves.

Sharon’s Field Placement in Thanatology

*This post was written by thanatology student Sharon Swiderski.*

On May 30th, our thanatology class from Kings University College visited Woodland Cemetery. This was one of our prearranged agency visits, where we visited various services in the community dealing with persons/families living with life threatening illness, bereavement and possibly, death. We were greeted by Roula Drossos, the manager, who visited with our class and answered our questions before we were taken on a walking tour conducted by Thomas Sayers and Meagan Fillmore, the Historian and Archivists. During the tour we were introduced to Brienna French and Robyn Lacy, monument conservators, employed as summer students to conserve and sometimes restore gravestones that have sunken into the ground or been damaged. Walking through the park-like setting of the cemetery, the storytelling of these enthusiastic tour guides introduced us to a few of the notorious lives here at Woodland. We also visited the mausoleum, were entertained by deer dancing among the trees, which truly presented an interesting and enchanting visit that afternoon.

Well, as fortune would have it, I am the student who has been spending time with this group at Woodland Cemetery, “hands on” (on a shovel, that is!) with Brienna and Robyn learning how to edge around a gravestone from having sunken into the ground, raise it by filling the hole with dirt, clean it and erect it again in honour of the person below. On one occasion, Robyn and Brienna were trying to teach me how to chisel old mortar off a stone to make it smooth again. Being a “mature student,” I secretly marvel at their patience with me! One day last week we were shown the cremation process, another day Woodland’s arborist gave us a walking tour to introduce us to the magnificent trees that have grown here over the years. To be given this opportunity to observe firsthand what occurs beyond the front gates is such a privilege and I am looking forward to the remaining time I have here to enjoy these people and learn more.

Buried together: The Carter Sisters

Today’s story of gravestone conservation is actually about a pair of gravestones that we repaired simultaneously, as is only befitting of young sisters. These marble markers, in Section K beside the crematory, were both transported over from St. Paul’s Cathedral churchyard. The sisters, Margret Matilda and Caroline F., died in 1855 and 1859 at young ages. Their parents ordered large, ornate gravestones to commemorate these losses, and our story today details their uncovering and restoration…all 2 weeks of it!

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The Carter stones before cleaning.

Initially, we though that these stones were both part of the same monument, perhaps a large ledger that had cracked under the weight of years of lawnmowers driving over it. Once we removed the sod layers, however, it became apparent that it was actually two gravestones laid to rest side by side!

As you can see in this photo, there is a base to Caroline’s stone on the left, still sticking up out of the ground. This suggests to us that a) her gravestone was not the style that included a separate key, with the 1850s dates a good indication that neither of them had keys, and b) these stones were once erected directly beside one another, after were laid in the same location after they broke.

This was both an exciting realization and a troublesome one, because while it meant that we would be able to raise the stones without making new keys, it also meant a *lot* more excavation to remove the two bases of the stones, still buried in the ground. And yes, once we removed Margret’s stone and probed below, it was evident that the base of her stone was still in situ below the surface as well. It was our lucky day!

Once the bases were excavated (which took ages) and the stones were cleaned, it was time to start digging out the ‘foundation area’ in order to reset the stones. We decided to go about this by digging down further than the gravestone bases were buried to, in order to pack the bottom with a level foundation of limestone screening. Once the limestone was in place and level, we made sure the bases were placed with the break just above ground level (for repairing) and packed limestone up to ground level to ensure they couldn’t budge out of place. Then…the difficult part began.

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Breinna attempting to drill a dowel hole.

You might be thinking, what difficult part? Surely hauling massive pieces of marble out of the ground with little more than your bare hands was the difficult part? Not so, my friend, not so. Normally when we get to this part of a restoration case, it’s a simple job of spending an afternoon measuring and drilling holes into the stone with a masonry drill, inserting the dowels, and clamping support boards around the crack until the sealant sets. Unfortunately, these gravestones were not so agreeable and turned out to be the hardest marble ever! Our drill skipped, the batteries were eaten almost immediately, and we called over auxiliary help (Joey) to make sure the sun hadn’t weakened us and it was actually fine but no, no this was the toughest marble that any of us had ever seen!

In a day, we were driving to and from the mechanical/tools compound to charge batteries multiple times, although the masonry drill bit we were using looked fine. It was slow going, until Grant the crematory operator suggested we use his drill, which was typically used to remove metal casket handles before the caskets went into the retorts. It hadn’t been used much and was nearly new, and we happily took the shiny, blue power drill outside. From there on it was mostly smooth sailing, and we only had to recharge the drill about once a day!

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Gravestones nearly finished, with Brienna checking out the broken corner.

With the better drill, we were able to finally move a little quicker, but it did take a total of two weeks from start to finish to locate, uncover, clean, and reset these gravestones. This includes limestone pointing on the cracks after the dowels had set in place. Initially, we had attached the top corner of Caroline’s stone with just some adhesive, due to the small size of the piece, but unfortunately because of the state of the stone’s weathering the surface was sugaring. The adhesive stuck to the detached grains of the stone and the piece broke off again in the same place! Second attempt included a dowel and it reattached with some ease.

Once the final two cracks were repaired (Caroline’s stone took longer, as it was in 4 pieces rather than just 3), it was just a matter of removing the final braces, pointing the breaks to protect the interior and the dowels, and voila!

We are very happy with how these two gravestones turned out! After the Hugessen monument, this was absolutely the largest (or at least most time consuming) project we have undertaken this summer! The stones are beautifully preserved due to their time underground, with Margret’s stone depicting a rose in the centre with additional foliage around the edges, with a Gothic arch. Caroline’s stone depicts a woman mourning, a tree with a bird in the branches, and a small lamb curled below it.

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Margret died when she was just about a year old, and her sister Caroline when she was just 6 years old. It’s clear that they were deeply missed by their parents, and it’s lovely to see that they can stand together even still, having been relocated from their original resting place to Woodland Cemetery.

Margret’s stone ends with a poem which reads:

Sleep on sweet babe and
take thy rest
God called three home, he
thought it best’ 

Catherine’s stone reads:

Farewell dear friend
this world is vain
in heaven hope
will meet again’

So often the poems on gravestones are difficult to read, due to the inscriptions being much shallower than the main body of the inscription, but these stones were partially covered, protecting the wonderful epitaphs. We think they are fitting tributes to these young girls.

As always, thank you for reading! We’re looking forward to bringing you more posts about Woodland’s history and restoration!

Crane* Day! (*Actually a Backhoe)

All of the projects Robyn and I have worked on up until this point have been challenging but we’ve only recently started using machinery in our work. This week, we’ve raised two monuments using a backhoe, which we’ve gleefully dubbed our ‘crane.’ This is because the monuments were too large for us to lift safely (or at all, for that matter).

This is why you don’t lean on monuments!

The first stone we raised with the backhoe was a marble ring cross monument to three women: Jane Gildersleeves, Olive Eastty, and Jane Booker. Their death dates ranged from 1907 to 1919. Unlike most of the stones we’ve worked on this summer, this stone was standing when we found it. However, we realized it was incredibly unstable, to the point of being dangerous, while we were visiting the monument to Paul Peel and his family nearby. I touched the 1.45m monument, and it wobbled like it was about to fall over!

In no time, Robyn and I had laid wooden planks against the base of the monument, and leaned the cross onto them. We learned that the cross had a metal rod at one point, but this had rusted and broken long ago. This is why we now work with wooden monuments, as the rust can harm the stone! We also learned that the cross was sitting on lead spaces, and had globs of old, hard sealant. So, we put on our masks and safety glasses and started chiseling away! Both the base and cross needed chiseling, and we managed to flatten the remaining bits of the metal rod, too.

Cleaning, drilling, and chiseling the monument!

Since it’s dangerous to have too many people chiseling in one area (you know, all the flying stones and whatnot), I started to clean the cross while Robyn and Sharon chiseled the base. I even had enough time to edge out and raise a nearby sunken tablet! Once the chiseling was complete, we were able to drill the base and cross. We do this by drilling the holes on the base first, and measuring where to drill the holes on top with calibers. After this, we had to wait for Joey, who has helped us on many previous projects, and Bruce, the backhoe operator to help us raise the cross.

A few days later, Joey notified us they were ready to help us finish our project! We met them at the monument, and cleared the cobwebs out of our hardhats, ready to learn how to guide the cross back into it’s base. First, Joey strategically wrapped a loop shaped strap around the cross, so that it could easily be lifted by the hook of the backhoe. Bruce gave us a fright here, as when we turned around to see how he was doing, he was wearing a monster mask! Haha. We’ve since learned he must have a costume store’s worth of supplies hidden in the cab of his backhoe.

When Bruce raised the arm of the backhoe, he was able to dangle the cross directly on top of the base, while we guided it into place. Here, we fixed it in place by matching our drilled holes on the bottom of the monument to the dowels in the holes in the base. The holes were filled with a cohesive substance to keep the cross mounted to the base.

And with that, it was standing again! We supported it by propping wood planks on either side of the cross, and came back the next day to fill the rest of the crack at the base of the monument with lime mortar.

A few days after setting the ring cross monument, we decided to raise another cross using the same method! A tall granite cross had broken into two and fallen from its base in Section K, and we wanted to raise it. However, granite is practically infinitely harder to drill compared to marble!! We naively decided to try drilling it, but gave up shortly when we realized we were going nowhere.

Instead of pinning this cross, we glued it together with our adhesive. Because of the weight of the monument, Joey helped us put the cross back together on the ground. We tightened ratchet straps around it to support it as it dried. A few days later, Bruce helped us raise the granite cross with the backhoe on one of his “sandwich breaks.” There was no way we could have lifted this without a machine!

Once the monument was upright in its proper position, we filled it’s base with adhesive. This position was difficult to determine, because the base was circular and the cross had no text to indicate the front. But we eventually figured it out with some trial and error!

This monument is ridiculously tall and heavy, and we felt the need to add some extra protective measures to ensure it could dry without falling and harming any people or wildlife. Joey made some interesting yet sturdy supports to hold it in place (I can’t describe them… just reference the images and see for yourself), and we wound caution tape around the area.

After a few days had passed, Joey took the supports down, and shook the monument to ensure it was secure and safe. If it wiggled in its base at all, we would have taken it down and waited for someone with a drill thats capable of drilling granite to pin it up. Thankfully, the monument is sturdy in place, and we were able to leave it standing for everyone to enjoy!

The final product.

Tavernkeeper on the Green

Every cemetery is filled with stories, some large and dramatic (like Robert Cooper’s story, that we brought you last week), and some are smaller. Some stories are hard to tease out, such as those of the everyday people of London, whose names might not have been written in lights, or had articles written about their achievements. We try to tell their stories through the conservation of their gravestones, as we unearth them, clean, and stand them up so visitors can see them too!

Today’s gravestone story is one of these stones. We don’t know much about the individual named on the stone, but through the restoration of his grave…and it was quite the restoration project, we were able to bring his name to light once again, and learn a little bit about the individual behind in in the process.

The gravestone of John Murphy was nearly completely buried below a mat of fine grasses and wild oregano, which gives section K a lovely aroma as you wander through the area. After we pulled back the sod, it was discovered that the stone was actually in fairly good condition…meaning that it was only broken in two pieces, rather than a million! That’s an easy fix, right?? Right! The base of the stone wasn’t long enough to bury right into the ground, so we probed around for a key. Luckily, we actually hit something below the gravestone itself, and quickly moved it out of the way!

To our great joy, there was a key below the stone! It was made from sandstone and the most irregular shape we’d seen so far. The top of the key was rough, and as we pulled it out of the ground the entire stone split in half in our hands! This was a very good example of the devastating effects of biological weathering on stone. Something that we typically think of as so strong and long-lasting can be eaten away by the roots of tiny plants, force the stone to split. Luckily, there was a remedy for it…in the form of Adex (?), a construction adhesive. We know that this material isn’t exactly conservation-savvy, but sometimes it works in a pinch, especially when you are repairing the base of a stone and really need it not to fall over again…or split in two!

Once we were certain the key had set, we placed it within a bed of limestone screening (for support and drainage, you know the drill), and pointed the remainder of the crack with limestone mortar to protect it from moisture and from sediment settling inside and providing a place for plant life to thrive. Sorry plants! To set the gravestone in the base, we added more mortar to the slot in the key and squished the bottom of the stone into place, checking to make sure it was level before bracing it with boards and leaving the stone to set overnight.

The next step was to drill holes to set the wood dowels into, and attach the top of the stone! We switched from the lipstick you may have heard about earlier to pencil and a set of calipers to carefully measure in the location of each dowel hole. This ensures accurate results without exposing the soft, absorbent marble to a staining substance such as lipstick. Luckily for us the marble was fairly soft. The stone aligned easily, and we had it set in record time (with a waiting period overnight to make sure the stone was set), with mortar to fill in those pesky cracks.

The stone features clasped hands bidding farewell, with delicate foliage in the top corners and a border of abstract leaves or peddles down the sides of the inscription. It reads:

IN
Memory of
John Murphy
WHO DIED
Apr. 2. 1866
AE. 36 yrs.
-.-
Requiescut in pace

John Murphy’s stone doesn’t tell us much about him, but his death date allows us to look him up in the St. Paul’s burial records book here at the cemetery. Our records show that he was buried the following day, on April 3rd, 1866, and that he was 40 years old at time of death. Either our records got his age wrong or he was lying about his age a little? The records also show that he was from London and worked as a tavernkeeper. We only wish we knew a little more about him…like what tavern he worked at!

Unfortunately, the 1861 Canada (Ontario) census does not list anyone named John Murphy that matches up with either potential age provided by his gravestone living in London at the time of the census, and he died before the 1871 census. It is possible that John arrived in London after 1861 from another part of Canada or another country, and died before he was included in the official census records. However, with the resetting of his gravestone at least visitors to Woodland will be reminded of his name when they pass by.

If you are interested in visiting Tavernkeeper John Murphy’s grave, head to Section K beside the crematory!

As always, thank you for your support of our heritage work at Woodland!

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