As part of our project to expand Woodland’s historic data base we’ve been researching the lives of Londoner’s buried in our cemetery. Among them is a man named Lem Wong. Lem’s life is exactly the kind of immigrant story people love to hear. It’s so perfect it’s already been told several times before! Lem’s life has been the subject of several articles and a documentary. The 52 part mini-series A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada features an episode on the Londoner called The Road Chosen: the Story of Lem Wong.
An Immigrant Experience
As a teenager Lem first traveled to Vancouver with his uncle on board a sailing ship. Like many Chinese immigrants he found work in laundries. He traveled across the country by hopping trains finding work on the prairies, in Montréal, Springhill, and Nova Scotia. During his time in Nova Scotia Lem participated in biking tournaments for fun and for prize money. Between his biking winning and his work he made enough money to return to China.
Lem was on his way
home to an arranged marriage when he met a women named Toye Chin. The two fell
in love and Lem backed out of his arranged marriage despite great social
pressure from his family. Lem would return to Canada alone and spend the next
few years trying to start a successful business so Toye could enter the
This was during the Chinese immigration act which required all Chinese immigrants to pay a head tax before, thus limiting Chinese immigration all together in 1923. To encourage only working men to emigrate the head tax for women was double that of men. The wives of merchants were the only exception to this rule. Opening a successful fruit and vegetable stand allowed Lem to sponsor his wife’s immigration to Canada. Lem and Toye became the first Chinese couple to start a family in the London.
Wong’s Café: The Place To Be
Once reunited with his wife in London Lem opened a restaurant called Wong’s Café on Richmond Street beside the old Free Press building. The restaurant flourished into a mainstay of the downtown known for its excellent food, service and music. Wong’s Café was open for 25 years between the First and Second World Wars. The restaurant was the first to introduce supper music and Saturday night dancing. During this time it became known as the kind of place you’d take people you wanted to impress. London’s own Guy Lombardo got his start performing there.
As a community focused man, Lem’s name can be found on
voter’s registries throughout his time in London. Wong also used the restaurant
as a community meeting place. The café was a venue for many special events
including celebrations for the Chinese Freemasons. In 1945 the London Chinese
community held a victory parade in solidarity with China to celebrate the Japanese
surrender. Lem was quick to offer his restaurant as the venue for the
ceremonial dinner. He would also host New Year’s dinners. During the great
depression Lem partnered with the Salvation Army to organize a free Christmas dinner
and clothing donation drive for the homeless and disenfranchised citizens of
Lem’s eight children remember him as a kind-hearted forward thinking man. He had Toye’s feet unbound and encouraged both his sons and daughters to pursue higher education. When discussing his immigration experience as a Chinese Canadian he used to tell his children; “You should take only the best of both worlds.”
Lem Wong was never a rich man, but he was a facet of the
downtown for years. In his time he shaped the experiences and culture of London
as much as any of the city’s more famous residents.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
*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.
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!
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!
Excavating the bases of the gravestones.
Detail of the iconography on Cartherine’s grave, before cleaning.
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.
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!
It took 2 days to get that one pice mounted!
Finally got one up!
Number 2 is on the way.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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!
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 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.
Do you ever walk through a cemetery and wonder why lichen colonies blanket some monuments, but not others? Or wonder how you can clean them off of your loved one’s stone? Well, here I list everything I’ve learned while working at Woodland about biological growths and how to clean them!
Every stone we’ve worked on so far has required multiple washes to clean the biological growths off the stone. While mud and most plant matter usually comes off with a spritz of water and a gentle scrub, some monuments need a more extensive cleaning with intervals of D2 and water.
D2 is a biological substance that we use to clean our stones. If you’ve been following our Instagram stories, it’s what we’ve been using in our dramatic before/after images that contrast blackened stones to stark white ones. D2 is the only substance we are comfortable using on monuments because it doesn’t have any destructive chemicals. (We aren’t sponsored by D2, I swear!)
Substances that are destructive to monuments includes salt; powders such as baby powder and flour; and household cleaners such as dish soap, window cleaner, or bathroom cleaner. Particulates of these substances can leach into the stone’s surface, and expand over time. This results in a faster deterioration of the stone – which is the opposite of what we want! On the contrary, D2 reacts to water and sunlight, to eat most biological growth and eventually bleach the stone closer to its original colour.
When a stone has extensive biological growth, precautions must be taken in removing them, otherwise you risk destroying the stone. When we clean a stone covered in lichen and moss, we spray it with D2 and water, and are easily able to scrub it off. However, if a plant with larger roots has attached to a stone, a few extra steps must be taken. If you pull out a plant with roots that reach deep into the stone, it has the potential to take out chunks of stone with it. Therefore, its so very important to cut the plant at the base, where it enters the stone, and let the roots die! Once the plant is cut from its roots, you can either let it die naturally, or spray it with D2 to quicken the process and prevent future plants from taking root in the same place. This will stop the plant from eating its way further into the stone, and keep the face of your precious monument intact.
Why do plants grow into stones, you may ask? Well, the older monuments we’ve been working on are primarily made from marble and sandstone. Marble has a very high calcium carbonate content, which plants find delicious. Sandstone can have this too, depending on the composition of that particular stone. Moreover, both these rock types are porous, which allows the roots to travel and expand. On the other hand, we have many granite monuments that are just as old as our lichen covered marble ones, but have no to little lichen and moss growth! This is because it’s difficult for plants to attach onto granite, especially when it’s polished!
Certain conditions foster better environments for growth than others. For example, monuments underneath trees accumulate various fallen biological matter, such as sap and leaves. They can also collect water pools from consistent dripping off of branches! All of these events can stain the monument, and allow for moss and lichen growth! We found a stark example of this in Section R the other day, when we found this Ann/Walker monument with two wide streaks of lichen growth on either side of the stone, but a nearly pristine center! This growth pattern exists because matter drips onto the monument from the tree above, but is divided by the peak at the centre of the monument before dripping down the sides. We chose not to clean the monument, because this amount of lichen will not harm the stone, and it will continue to grow like this until the tree is cut down.
Another way that biological matter negatively impacts our stones is by helping them to sink underground. Most commonly at Woodland Cemetery, grass clippings and dead leaves accumulate on top of tablets and fallen markers, which decomposes and eventually can cover the entire monument. The grass surrounding the monument can then grow onto it, either fully or partially, which makes it very difficult to identify that a marker has fallen there. Sometimes, the only way to find these markers is by randomly probing areas with our T-shaped rods, in hopes of hitting a marker. Sometimes we guess where to probe by searching for small slumps in the ground covered by damp leaf piles, or my looking for gaps in rows and columns of markers!
While we would prefer to locate and display all the sunken monuments, they are actually better preserved if left underground. The dirt protects them from pollution and substances that would otherwise blacken and deteriorate the stone! This is visible on the stones we’ve found partially underground and reset, as they have dark rings in the center from being exposed to harmful substances in the air! However, we think its important to raise the monuments regardless, so that the individual and their history are not forgotten.
And oftentimes, we leave moss and lichen on monuments. This is partially because we have to prioritize our time over many tasks and monuments, but also because this is something to be expected with any outdoor monument. Plant growth is natural to a rock’s life cycle, and sometimes, we should allow them to take that cycle.
The cemetery is filled with endless stories. Stories about individuals that we will never meet, stories that have been passed down through the ages, ones that have been lost to time, and ones that we are able to tease out of the archives and records to tell again. Today’s story is one of those that has been pieced back together to be told again. This is the far-too-short story of Robert Cooper.
As far as the records show, Robert Cooper was born in England in 1854 to Mary Ann Cooper. At the moment, we have been unable to figure out anything about his father, as he died prior to the 1871 Ontario Census. Mary Ann arrived in London sometime between 1861 and 1871 (due to her not appearing on the London 1861 census), and we can narrow that date further to between 1861 and 1871. She first appears on the 1871 census as living in London as a widow.
It is possible she moved to Ontario to take a job as a servant after her son was born and her husband had died, leaving her with no other option than to take work overseas to support her family. Neither her nor Robert are listed on any Ontario census records prior to 1871, suggesting the arrived in the 10 years between between then and the previous census.
The W looks a bit like an ‘M’ as well, but other records of clearly married people had a different looking M, so just trust me on this one. A clear indicator that a woman wasn’t married either, along with the W in the census records, was that she wasn’t listed below her husband’s name. Mary Ann was listed alone, suggesting she may have been living with the family she worked for. Her son Robert, who was 17 in 1871 (she would have had him at age 28), is listed on a separate page of the census.
Earlier this week, Brienna was probing in a large open section of Section K and uncovered the most curious headstone that we had ever seen. As we pulled back the sod we were met with a gravestone image that was both confusing and exciting! We rushed to uncover the rest of the stone and clean it, hoping that it would reveal something about the image.
The gravestone turned out to belong to one Robert Cooper, and it read as follows:
In Memory of ROBERT Son of WIDOW COOPER who was accidentally killed by the explosion of a Soda water Cylinder July 31, 1871. Aged 17 years ____ POWELL & SON
The image on the top of the gravestone was a soda water cylinder, which would have held carbon dioxide or ‘carbonic acid’ which was forced into water to make it fizzy. This process was discovered by Joseph Priestley in the late 18th century, naming him the ‘father of the soft drink’, and became very popular! However, highly pressurized tanks are subject to explosion if the conditions aren’t right, or the tank is damaged in some way.
Robert was listed in the year of his death as having worked as a servant, but it does not say where or to whom he was in service. Records from the Ivey Family London Room at the London Public Library state that at Bilton’s Soda Water & Pop Works on Dundas Street, London, a ‘soda fountain’ exploded, killing Robert Cooper instantly. A newspaper article from the London Free Press, August 1st, 1871, states that he was an employee of the soda works.
Bilton’s was one of many soda works in London in the 1800s, and was near the intersection of Dundas and Wellington Streets. We haven’t been able to find out much more about the company, but are definitely looking to fill in the gaps. It may have looked similar to the water works of J. Tune & Son, which was established in 1882 on York Street. As you can see in the background of this image, there are many large tanks which would have been used to carbonate the water in the bottles. Robert was working near a similar tank, as part of his job was to ‘fill and wash the vessels’ during the soda water making process (London Free Press 1871).
“It was a jar-shaped utensil, and stood upon its bottom. While it was in this position Cooper and another young man named Welch approached it and were about to lift it by the handles. Cooper has no sooner bent over it than the fountain exploded with a terrible force, rising like a rocket and striking against the ceiling with a ford which broke through the ….. and shook the whole building. In its upward flight, horrible to relate, it struck young Cooper in the chest and under the chin, and bore him bodily up with it. His head struck against the ceiling about three feet distant; and also broke the plaster. He fell lifeless. His companion Welch was forced by the outflying gas across the floor amongst a lot of the bottom, and narrowly escaped the same fate. Dr. Fluck was at once sent for, and appeared five minutes after the accident but too late to be of service. The body was carefully removed to Mr. Bilton’s dining room, overhead, and coroner Moore notified. In the afternoon at four o’clock, an inquest was held.” -London Free Press, Aug 1, 1871.
The tank they were filling belonged to a J.E. Baker on Richmond Street, which indicates that stores could bring their tanks/fountains over to the Soda Works to have them refilled, and that the tank in question had been repaired before for leaks. In short, it could easily have been faulty. The deposition of witnesses and owners concluded that Robert’s death was an accident due to faulty repairs of the tank, and that when tanks are leaky after that point they are to be condemned in order to prevent further tragedy (London Free Press 1871).
Our burial and death records here at Woodland list Robert’s burial as having taken place at St. Paul’s on August 1st, 1871, and that his body was transported there from the ‘City Hospital’. This indicates that he was brought to the hospital after the accident. Later, his burial and gravestone were brought to Woodland Cemetery post-1879.
It is curious that the gravestone shows a carving of the cylinder that killed him! It is not a common motif, to show on a gravestone what ultimately ended one’s life…unless that something was a boat. Additionally, his mother’s name is only listed as ‘Widow Cooper’ on the stone, an interesting choice to make as his only family.
Robert’s death was a tragic accident, but through the resulting inquest into what happened, safety precautions were brought into place to protect future soda men in their places of work. We packed the space with limestone screening to allow drainage without letting the gravestone sink as quickly, and made a buffer of screening around the edges to keep the grass back as long as possible Robert’s stone can be visited in Section K. We remember Robert through his curious gravestone, which gave us a glimpse into his life in 1870s London.
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.
Curious about the newspaper article?
If you are interested in the rest of this article, check out the London Reading Room or download the sections below:
Stone (to use the more anthropological and less geological term, in the context of human usage) seems to be forever. That is what we imagine when we’re choosing our gravestones. The North American settler intention for burials is that when the grave plot is purchased, it belongs to that family in perpetuity. The grave it eternal, so that means so should be the marker, right?
Stone has another idea, though. Stone, like everything else on this planet has a birth, a lifespan, and a death. Yes, even the gravestone so lovingly chosen to be the last earthly reminder of an individual, shall too eventually give in to the forces of nature and crumble, crack, and fall (to paint a dramatic picture). While we, as monument conservators, are working to conserve the historic gravestones which have sunken, broken, or fallen out of their keys, we also recognize that sometimes the gravestone is too far gone. Restoration of these gravestones could do more harm to it than good, repairing missing sections, attempting to patch together crumbling pieces, obscuring text, and potentially cracking the remaining pieces in an effort to restore them.
Today we will be looking at the major players in the downfall of these gravestones in the form of different types of weathering. Weathering comes in many different shapes and sizes as natural processes, and can impact the lifespan of the gravestone directly.
The following terminology is based on the list developed by Dr. Inkpen (ND), and is summarized below with examples, and additional examples.
Sugaring: Mineral grains on the surface of the stone are coming loose. It will feel a bit like sand or sugar to the touch, and grains will fall. Letting takes on a more rounded appearance. Also called ‘granular disintegration’.
Flaking: Fragments of stone are detaching from the surface of the stone. This is particularly noticeable on sandstones. This is also known as ‘spalling’.
Blistering: The surface of the gravestone will appear raised or domed, and will sound hollow when tapped gently.
Contour Weathering: The entire surface of the gravestone breaks away in one sheet. It’s extremely dramatic!
Pitting: Depressions in the surface of the stone, caused by any form of weathering. These can be measured and compared in the future to track the rate of degradation.
Black Crust: One of the most distinctive forms of weathering is the infamous ‘black crust’ that forms on all types of stone. It often appears in more sheltered areas, such as below trees, the crust is comprised of calcium sulphate, a ‘crust formed by dry deposition’ (Inkpen ND). This crust forming usually indicates an accumulation of soot or other debris on the surface of the stone.
Organic forms / Biological Growth: The growth of lichen or moss on the surface of a grave stone often indicates that the area is moist. You can notice lichen growth on particular portions of a gravestone if the top is shaped in such a way that water pours down the face only in specific areas.
How does it happen?
But what causes a stone to fail, to die? The natural processes of weathering work in every corner of this planet, shaping mountains, pushing trees, changing what might otherwise seem impermeable. Weathering is the break-down of rocks while in situ (Tymon 2012). Weathering is often mixed up with erosion: Erosion There are three types of weathering that all effect the look, feel, and longevity of a gravestone:
– Chemical Weathering – Physical Weathering – Biological Weathering
“Processes of weathering are generally associated with particular types of gravestones or particular environments” (UCL 2019). This means that acid rain will eat away at limestone faster than granite, due to its high calcium carbonate content. Water collecting in the base of a softer stone may cause it to break in that area quicker, due to increased weathering in conjunction of the high moisture content. We will explore the major components of weathering below.
Chemical weathering is caused by chemical reactions between substances such as acid rain with the surface of the stone (Tymon 2012). Hydrolysis, caused by rain which is acidic due to picking up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This reacts with minerals, causing them to break down and be washed away. Oxidation is caused by iron in the stone oxidizing, or rusting, when water and air are present. This causes stains to the gravestone, and can often be seen as the orange/yellow/brown patina on sandstones, due to their mineral content. Carbonation is caused by rain water reacting with minerals which contain carbonate. This is particularly an issue for calcium carbonate-heavy stones such as marble, limestone, and sandstones. If water gets inside the stone it can cause pieces to fall off the face of the gravestone as the minerals is eaten away.
There are two main types of physical weathering that you might notice while out and about in the cemetery: Expansion-contraction & Freeze-thaw. Expansion-Contraction Weathering is also known as exfoliation or delimitation of the gravestone, and is caused by the expansion of the stone itself in the heat, and the contraction of the stone in cold. This is particularly an issue in modern cemeteries with sprinkler systems (NCPTT 2018). Freeze-Thaw Weathering deals with water seeping into cracks in the stone and freezing, which causes the water to expand and can further crack or break the stone. This is especially noticeable in places that have temp extremes like..oh…Ontario? There is also weathering by wind, which is a force against the stone but often combines with other weathering processes to react with the surface of the stone. Say the stone was weakened by chemical weathering, and then wind blows against the surface, blowing away those loose particles and cause the surface of the stone to alter. This is common, and you can often see more heavily weathered stones in windy, wet areas.
Biological weathering is defined as damage done to the gravestone as the result of plant life impacting the stone. It may be surprising to hear, but lichens, moss, and vines attach themselves to the stone and take nutrients out of the stone, such as calcium. This essentially means they eat into the surface of the stone, taking away physical pieces off and weakening the structure. The attachment points of moss and lichen are called rhizoids, which secrete acid which cause chemical breakdown of the materials, while ivy attaches with small root-like structures or suckers, and while the leaves can provide protection from the rain, they suck nutrients and therefore structural components from the stone itself (Tymon 2012). Have you ever seen a house that had vines removed, and it is now covered in streaks from where they were attached? That is because it was eating into the brick! (there will be a whole post on biological growth and weathering!)
There you have it, the story of weathering and how it causes the eventual breakdown of even the toughest of stones. If we didn’t have weathering and erosion, we wouldn’t have canyons, hoodoos, or the need for monument conservators!
While we try our best to conserve gravestones that can be helped, sometimes the gravestones have been at the mercy of weathering and erosion for far too long, and it would be detrimental to that stone to attempt to put it back together. It is a case by case basic, and when a gravestone has begun to rapidly deteriorate, like the example shown here, we do our best to display the stone and conserve it in its present state. This might involve limestone screening to keep it from sinking. When we restore a gravestone, we want to make sure it is the right action to take for the lifespan of that stone!
Weathering impacts all gravestones, no matter what conditions they are in. You can see the effects of weathering on many of our gravestones throughout Woodland Cemetery, on all types of stones. We are planning a post detailing biological weathering impacts, with an in-depth look at what plant life can do to gravestones, so keep your eyes peeled!
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.
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!
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.
Our drilled holes on the lipstick marks
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.
Is this right!?
Setting the sealant on the top crack
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.
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.