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

Babykinderwagen

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.

Victorian_era_post-mortem_family_portrait_of_parents_with_their_deceased_daughter

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.

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/

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.

RachelLeahHannah
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!

Repairing Stones
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!

You can also follow us on our social media:

Facebook: Woodland Cemetery History

Twitter: @woodlandhistory

Instagram: @woodlandcemeteryhistory

We’re Hiring for History – Summer 2018!

05/10/2018 – Applications are now closed! Thank you to those who applied, and we look forward to introducing our new summer team shortly!

31676610_627618404249993_7256193083035877376_oWe’re ready to kick things into gear at Woodland Cemetery for another summer of research, preservation, and public history! We are looking for both Monument Conservators and an Historian/Archivist.

Do you know a current student who would be interested in working for us this summer? Send them this blog post and have them send in a resume by Wednesday night!

Details:

 

Monument Conservator Position:

Are you a current student who is innovative, committed, and passionate about history? We are offering positions as our Monument Conservator Team through the Canada Summer Jobs program.
If you are qualified and returning to university or college this fall, then apply by May 9, 2018.

We are looking for current students with an interest in historical and/or archaeological restoration work to restore Victorian era-monuments at Woodland Cemetery. Applicants must be willing and able to undertake outdoor work on a daily basis.

Requirements (as dictated by Student Jobs Canada):
– must be between 15 and 30 years of age
– must have been registered as a full-time student during the preceding academic year
– must intend to return to school on a full-time basis during the next academic year
– must be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or person on whom refugee protection has been conferred

Woodland is a historic cemetery with many original monuments that date back to the early 19th century. Due to the elements and lack of previous conservations efforts, many of these priceless hand-carved monuments are at risk of being lost. The students hired for this position will be specially trained to recover and restore these monuments, continuing the Monument Restoration Initiative that Woodland founded in 2014.

Job Description
Students will be tasked with the identification, recovery, restoration, and logging of the monuments, as well as research into the cultural and historical contexts of these pieces of memorialization (including the stories of early immigrants to Canada).
Students will also track and record their progress while they find, uncover, and fix Victorian-era monuments, in order that the London community can see the progress being made in uncovering history on Woodland’s grounds.

For a previous example of our work, see here:http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/headstones-cemetery-confederation-london-1.4156558

_________________________________________
TO APPLY:
We value diversity and inclusion and encourage any qualified person to apply.
Apply by May 9, 2018 to: Levi Hord, Historian and Archivist at l.hord@woodlandcemetery.on.ca with the subject line: Monument Conservator Position
Please send a cover letter detailing how your skills, experience, and education fit with this position, together with your resume, in a single file in Word or PDF format.
Note: You must confirm in your letter that you are starting or returning to full-time college or university in the fall.
All applications received will be acknowledged with a reply email. However, only those to be invited for an interview will be contacted.
No phone calls, please.

 

 

Historian/Archivist Position:

Are you a current student who is innovative, committed, and passionate about history? We are offering one position as our Historian / Archivist through the Canada Summer Jobs program.

If you are qualified and returning to university or college this fall, then apply by May 9, 2018.

We are looking for someone interested and/or trained in historical research, and with creative vision, to work in our public history program.
Preference will be given to candidates who are interested in employment in this position for subsequent summers and are willing to lead and develop our historical research program.

Requirements (as dictated by Student Jobs Canada):
– must be between 15 and 30 years of age
– must have been registered as a full-time student during the preceding academic year
– must intend to return to school on a full-time basis during the next academic year
– must be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or person on whom refugee protection has been conferred

Job Description
You will be responsible for
1) researching using the primary source material in Woodland’s archives as well as community resources such as the London Room to uncover the stories of Londoners buried at Woodland Cemetery;
2) researching for and creating at least two new historical walking tours (including supplementary materials such as brochures and videos,
3) organizing and executing an event in the form of a walking tour that is open to the public;
4) creating a mobile version of this walking tour to offer to school/educational groups, seniors’ organizations and nursing homes, and interested groups;
5) digitizing the archival materials in Woodland’s possession that predate 1880 and making these documents searchable and available to the public;
6) managing online engagement and creating public history initiatives to get Londoners interested and involved in our history.

Specific project initiatives planned for this summer include a walking tour focused on local London artists and authors, as well as a social media campaign focused on increasing genealogical projects within the community (though programming will also be open to your creative input).

____________________________________________
TO APPLY:

We value diversity and inclusion and encourage any qualified person to apply.
Apply by May 9, 2018 to: Levi Hord, Historian and Archivist at l.hord@woodlandcemetery.on.ca with the subject line: Historian / Archivist Position
Please send a cover letter detailing how your skills, experience, and education fit with this position, together with your resume, in a single file in Word or PDF format.
Note: You must confirm in your letter that you are starting or returning to full-time college or university in the fall.
All applications received will be acknowledged with a reply email. However, only those to be invited for an interview will be contacted.
No phone calls, please.

Last Blog Entry

Hello everyone,

I can’t believe that today is our last day here at woodland! It really feels like the summer started just a few days ago. But I guess everything must come to an end.

Last few days were little slower than the usual, but we still got a lot of things done! We didn’t start any major projects, of course, since we didn’t want to leave any stones unfinished. After all, there are only so many things you can get done within few days. So instead, we went back to fixing individual stones that needed simple repairs. We stood up some monuments – the ones that had enough space between the end of the stone and the inscription because we don’t need a key for those – and we also edged multiple footstones. It is important to edge these stones once in a while because grass tend to cover them up with time. I guess we could say that even these small tasks allow us to preserve more history, which is why I really enjoyed this summer job.

Now, time for some reflection:

I absolutely loved working at Woodland as a monument conservator. I learned so many things I would not have learned elsewhere. First, I may have lived most of my life in London, but I honestly did not know much about London’s history. Working here, I learned so much about London. What a rich history this city has to offer! I also learned various skills that I never imagined to learn. I remember that in the beginning of the summer, our boss, Paul, saying that there are only handful of people in Ontario, if not Canada, who knows how to restore monuments. And surprise – we (Alyssa, Peter, MacKenzie and I) are now a part of those handful number of people. Not only that, but I was also able to hone my communication and problem-solving skills. I am sure all the valuable skills I learned from Woodland will come in handy at some point in my life.

Also, it was such a pleasure to work with all the staff here at Woodland. In one sentence: everyone was amazing. So many of woodland staff helped us throughout the summer and without them, we would not have been able to complete our projects. I don’t think I have ever met a better team to work with than the Woodland Team! Last but not least, I thank YOU for following our journey throughout the summer. I hope you enjoyed our journey as much as we did! We loved sharing our stories with you!!

Thank you everyone and for the last time,

Sunny

Last few days!

As the days until we finish our summer as Monument Conservators rapidly decline, my colleagues and I have been attempting to complete some basic repairs of random stones around Woodland. Peter and Jonathon had an interesting find. A lot of the stones we encounter have broken at the base, and many of the bases are missing. They are typically under the ground or have been thrown away at some point over the years. We usually probe on either side on the ends of the stone for the base, and sometimes we get lucky. However, Peter and Jonathon were looking at a stone that had no sign of the base at either end. They decided to lift the stone and probe underneath, and to our surprise, the key was directly underneath the stone. This surprised us, but it was great because it gave us something fun to work on for our last two weeks.

We also completed the documentary today (and by we, I mean Sunny and Alyssa). That might be airing on Rogers TV, but will definitely be put up on Woodland Cemeteries official website!

I should also use my last post to work on my final reflections of my summer here. This was honestly the best student summer job I could have imagined. I grew up with my mum instilling in me a love of history and she taught me that cemeteries were a direct connection to our past. I think this summer has just taught me to respect them even more, to understand the sheer amount of work that went into each stone that we see. It continues to amaze me the talent of the stonecutters, who were using basic tools to produce these brilliant works of art.

I also appreciate the work that goes into running a cemetery now more than ever. The team at Woodland works so seamlessly and everyone is genuinely interested and happy to do what they do. My boss Paul says that you should be able to put yourself in the shoes of the loved ones and feel compassion, and the day you can’t do that anymore is the day you should leave. I’ve learned a lot from him this summer. Whether it is about the management of the cemetery or about the battles of the American Civil War, he is always eager to impart his knowledge to us, something that we always appreciate.

The other members of Woodlands team were also equally responsible for making this an amazing summer for my team. They were patient with us when we ‘accidently’ borrowed their equipment and forgot to put it back, and they were always interested to see what new projects we were working on and to help when they could. Everyone works so hard, but they always have time to be kind and lend a hand, which is valued more then I can say.

Then, of course, I can’t forget our teacher Tom Klassen, who taught us everything we knew. We definitely would not have gotten as far as we could without his wisdom, and we always enjoyed working with him. He is brilliant at what he does, and I am looking forward to helping him teach my Masters in Public History course a bit about Monument Restoration in the fall!

Overall, it has been a wonderful summer and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Thank you once again to everyone who helped make this summer the best of my University career.

Reflections on Woodland

As the summer draws to a close and this blog nears its end for the year, I’ll devote my final post to reflecting on my experiences at the cemetery. I’ve spent nearly four months in a cemetery this summer, and I still enjoy the looks I get when telling people what my summer job was. As cliche as it may sound this summer has taught me a great deal not only about what it takes to preserve history, but also on the kind of role a cemetery plays in every day human life.

Every day at Woodland our team has striven to preserve history, whether by physically repairing monuments that go back as far as the early 1800s, or by conducting research to uncover the stories of those the stones were made for. But over this summer, we were forced to approach history in a slightly different manner than we are used to as academics. As students, we were accustomed to writing history in an academic manner, presenting research to be critiqued by our instructors and fellow students. This work was seldom read outside of the confines of academia. The same is true for the vast majority of academic publishing. What set our time at Woodland apart was that we actively sought to bring history out of the academic setting and into the public setting, which turned out to be an entirely new challenge for us.

When working on the Scottish site, we developed our display in a way that allowed curious visitors to walk among the stones and clearly experience the relics themselves. When we repaired buried or broken stones, it was not because they yielded new knowledge to us, it was because we wanted them to be accessible for the next hundred years to curious onlookers. Our research was not presented in 12 point font, Times New Roman, and cited according to the Chicago Manual of Citations. (For those who don’t know, this is generally the default way to present research in social sciences) Instead, it was published on our blog, on our Facebook, and on our Instagram, and aimed at the general public. Presenting it in such a manner is a vastly different experience for us, and one that we had to adjust to. We spent less time concerned with ensuring our writing was of the proper tone, and more time attempting to share knowledge and stories as far as possible. It was an entirely new experience that forced us to develop our public speaking skills and our outreach skills. Even on days where we were exhausted from work, we forced ourselves to be presentable, friendly, and approachable to curious onlookers who might have a few questions about what our work entails. Or perhaps they were wondering what I was doing wandering into old cemetery sections carrying a shovel.

In addition to approaching history in such a new way, I also learned of what a cemetery has to offer a society. A cemetery does not exist to serve the dead. The dead do not require a gravestone, a casket, or an urn. They do not require a funeral service, and they are certainly incapable of demanding such things. We as human’s could dispose of our dead in a far more efficient way than we do, but we choose not to. This is because cemeteries exist primarily to serve the living. It is the living who place value in laying our loved ones to rest in a dignified manner. Loss of a family member or friend is something every human being experiences throughout their life. It is a traumatic experience, and cemeteries allow us to begin the process of celebrating one’s life, preserving their legacy, and healing our broken hearts. We are provided with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that a loved one’s remains will be cared for, will be protected, and will remain undisturbed. A tombstone allows us to preserve their legacy, again giving us the comfort of mind that their life was not in vain, that they are not forgotten. A dignified funeral service provides families with a vital sense of closure, that allows the healing process to begin. The living need a physical place to mourn, and to remember. The memorial to John Parkinson Jr. is one such example of this. If you have not read my previous blog post, it was about a 17 year old Union soldier who died at Atlanta during the American Civil War, but is memorialized here at Woodland. Unable to return their son’s body to London, the Parkinsons decided to erect a memorial for John anyways, to provide themselves with a place to mourn, and with a sense of closure.

When we repair gravestones and display them in a dignified matter, we are serving those family and friends who paid dearly to have their loved one memorialized long into the future. The fight against time is a battle we can’t win, eventually all of the stones we work on, and all of the stones at Woodland will crumble and decay. But if we continue to make them accessible for at least the next several generations, then we can feel that we have done our part in both fulfilling grieving families’ desires, and preserving history as well.

It has been a privilege to serve at Woodland over the past several months, and an experience I will never forget. I carry with me great memories, new skills, and a sense of accomplishment.

An ancient Greek proverb states “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.” I think it summarizes why monument conservation is a worthy pursuit well.

Signing off for the last time,

Peter Dobrzynski

Final Thoughts for the Summer

Hi there!

As the summer winds down, I have been thinking about how I have accomplished and learned so many more things than I could have possibly imagined at the beginning of the summer. We completed almost the entire project of the Scottish Cemetery (130 stones!), repaired and restored approximately a dozen others around the cemetery, including ones that were completely underground, and stood up thirteen of the gravestones from Old St Paul’s Cemetery. We put together a walking tour, each of us completed several radio/tv/newspaper interviews, and we helped uncover some of the lost history of Woodland Cemetery.

During our last few weeks, we will be doing a couple of things. We are wrapping up our final project (the standing of the corner stones in Section U), we are doing  repairs to fallen gravestones around the cemetery (fallen or loose monuments), and we are hoping to finish up our video diary / documentary on tombstone archeology.

The video has been quite a challenge. Sunny and I have been learning to use Final Cut Pro, which has forced me to recall my high school days in media arts classes, and we have had to go out into the cemetery and get some final additional footage for the project. Regardless of whether it airs or not, I think that this part of the job has been the most challenging for me (I am not that great with technology), and may provide a great sense of satisfaction when it is complete. It encompasses most of the work we completed this summer, all the new skills we learned, our progressing thoughts and expectations of the job, and showcases our team’s deep appreciation for the history of Woodland Cemetery.

People don’t often acknowledge cemeteries. Yes, we drive by them on our way to work,  the grocery store, and the movies, but we look past them. We don’t see the beauty within historical cemeteries such as Woodland and the history it holds. I think most of us don’t really think about them until we are forced to go under unfortunate circumstances. When I was younger, cemeteries terrified me. It was only two years ago, when I was living in Europe, did I discover my deep appreciation for cemeteries and the ways in which they preserve memory. Working at Woodland has been a fantastic experience and I have greatly enjoyed my time here. Our manager, and every member of staff at Woodland works hard to preserve the cemetery’s natural beauty, help people through difficult times in their lives, and ensure that everyone’s deceased loved ones are guaranteed a proper and respectful memorialization, in whatever way the family wishes to do it.

Our work is not yet done at Woodland Cemetery. Hopefully next year’s students will be able to carry on our work and finish the projects we did not get the chance to complete.

Thank you for keeping up with our work!

For the last time,

Alyssa

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