What We Did This Summer: Monument Conservators Reflections

It’s the classic troupe. You get back from summer holidays in grade school, and your teachers make you write about what you did over the summer holidays. We’re not in grade school anymore, but we’d like to bring you a little bit of what we’ve learned over the ‘summer’ while working at monument conservators at Woodland, our best and worst experiences, and maybe a few of our favourite experiences and photos too!

What was your favourite gravestone to work on this summer?
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Brienna filling out a form for little Billie

Robyn: I think I’m going to have to go with the Carter Sisters on this one! Originally, we thought they were one stone…maybe a ledger that had cracked in several places or something, but when we took the sod off the stones we realized it was two different stones from the 1850s! They both had the bases in situ, right beside on another too and didn’t need a key made, so we were able to get them standing next to each other again…even if it did take 2 weeks to finish!

Brienna: Probably Maurice’s? Although, it’s hard to choose. I remember feeling really excited uncovering my first completely sunken monument, and Robert Cooper’s stone was also exciting because of its richness in history. I enjoyed working on Maurice’s monument because it felt like there was a surprise with every dig. We decided to work on the monument because we had nearly finished all of the fallen monuments in Section K, and wanted to finish the rest of them. We found Maurice’s monument laying flat in two pieces under a pine tree, and thought, “Okay, cool! Another one to lay down in screening!” But we were so wrong. While digging the monument out, we realized it had broken off, and the marble continued straight into the ground. While we tried to get that up, we realized it was in cement and surrounded by thick roots. While we tried to get the cement out, we realized there was a key underneath. And finally, while we tried to get that out, we realized it was in more cement! We ended up with what I’m dubbing the largest hole on Earth, but that was the exciting part! We never knew what to expect with this stone!

Best gravestone conservation tip for the public?
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Don’t break the stones!

Robyn: OhhhHHhh there are so many to chose from! Lets go with this: Please do not take rubbings of any gravestones, or add any substance to the gravestone to make it ‘easier’ to read, such as talcum powder, flour, or any other household powder. They all contain substances that leech into the stone and cause internal damage when they get wet…the particles expand, crack the stone, and eventually ruin the inscriptions. Please just take pictures, make notes, and lightly feel the stone with your finger tips to determine letters!

Brienna: Please please pleaseeeee don’t go probing around cemeteries to look for stuff. Even if it’s your families plot, please ask for consent from the institution. For example, if at Woodland Cemetery, you should go into the office and ask the staff. This is for many reasons. Firstly, you could scratch the monument with what you are using to probe the ground. Secondly, you could dig up something that the family intended to be buried with the person. Thirdly, it’s an active site, and you don’t know what’s below the surface. What if the burial is shallow? Or what if that plot is still in use? Please just ask the staff inside, they will be happy to assist you.

What was your favourite animal encounter?
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Fredrick/Franklin the squirrel!

Brienna: Watching a deer give birth! Even though it was a stillbirth and sad, we learned a lot. We found the deer sitting, with a pink sack next to her. Once she was done giving birth, she pulled the sack off of the fawn with her teeth! This looked super gruesome, as bits of the sack and blood dripped from her mouth. It was pretty intense!

Robyn: Definitely going to have to go with Fredrick/Franklin the squirrel for this one! It was one of our first days at Woodland, and as we were going for lunch this young squirrel was chasing us down the road while we walked! After we realized he was a hungry baby and not a rabid creature, we let him follow us over to lunch. We gave him water and a cashew, and he hung out with us for part of the afternoon! He rode around on our shoulders, snuggled inside my jacket, and rode on my backpack for a while. Once we got our golf cart running though, he ran off. I really hope he’s doing ok out there, friendly little guy!

Hardest part of the job?
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Some heavy lifting required!

Robyn: I could go with something physical here, but I think as an archaeologist I’m pretty used to figuring out how to lift large, heavy buckets of stuff (and stones). I think the hardest part of the job was just figuring out what gravestone repairs are the priority for us to work on. You could spend literal years at the cemetery, probably even in only one or two sections, making sure each stone is level, stable, etc., but our priorities need to be to older stones that can be repaired, unsafe stones, etc. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the work that needs doing, or excited about X stone here and Y stone and start several projects at once (guilty!), so prioritizing based on need and safety is super important.

Brienna: I think just getting used to the conditions. I had not exercised much in a while prior to starting the job, and my body was in for quite the shock! Haha. I had a few muscle cramps at first from all the lifting and digging, but they quickly went away. And similar to Robyn, I also had difficulty prioritizing projects and accepting the fact that there’s no way we can fix everything. Once Thomas said, “You can’t get saviour complex for the cemetery!” Which is so true, but hard to accept! If we had more hands, there are so many easy fixes lying around Woodland. I’m happy that this program exists every summer though, so I can hope future monument conservators will get to them.

Best part of the job?
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2019 Woodland History Team!

Robyn: Besides meeting and working with all these amazing people? Getting to work in a historic cemetery, of course! I’m a huge advocate of public archaeology and heritage, so getting to work in a public site where we can answer questions from interested members of the public is huge! We have worked really hard this summer to up our online presence as a way to interact with people too, but it is so much more rewarding to be able to answer questions in person. I want everyone to know how interesting historic burial sites are!

Brienna: So many things!! Our team was amazing to work with; the job was essentially stress-free (well, unless you count stressing about the heat?); and our Tuesday visits to the gluten-free bakery across the road for baked goods were always amazing. I also really loved getting to choose what projects to do, based on what which repairs we preferred and which stones spoke to us. This allowed us to complete whole areas and family stones, areas in the shade, and really ambitious week-long projects (looking at you, Hugessen)! Finally, it’s an amazing feeling to find a completely sunken monument, and raise it so that their memory is restored. We’ve conserved and restored quite a few stones that weren’t visible to the public just 2 months ago, and now so many more people can acknowledge these people and their history, and perhaps do more research in their own time.

Tips for working outdoors in *This Heat*?

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…and summer follows spring.

Brienna: Drink 3x as much water as you think you need, and don’t feel bad for taking breaks! If you work your body to the point of exhaustion in this heat, your work will be subpar anyways. So, it’s better for you and your productivity to sit in the shade every once in a while! Robyn and I were lucky enough to have access to popsicles and freezies in the break room, and eating those made for fun breaks!

Robyn: Get yourself an ‘archaeology’ hat (ugh can you hear me groaning at that joke from here?) to keep the sun off your face, ears, and neck! Trust me, it will save you! Also, look up the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke so you can take a rest if you feel one of them coming on. Heat is dangerous, especially if you aren’t prepared!

Most surprising part of working in an active cemetery?
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Section R, our home away from home

Robyn: I study burial grounds so I wasn’t concerned about being around graves at all. In fact, I find them rather peaceful! However, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel being around the contemporary deceased, since everyone I research has been dead for a long time. When we got a chance to shadow in the crematory, I was a bit surprised to find that I’m fairly comfortable in that environment as well (archaeologists often don’t go beyond bones), and was/still am very interested about that kind of work. The burial process is fascinating.

Brienna: There were a few times throughout the summer I’d forgotten that we were working in an active cemetery. When you’re working on monuments from the Victorian Era, dating as far back as 1851, it’s so easy to remove yourself and forget that those were people just like us. We often referred to the stones as if they were the people they commemorated (“Robert, why are you so dirty!?”), or spoke of them as if they were still alive. I found myself being reminded that the people of the monuments we were working on were deceased when we could see services nearby, or when we visited the crematory.

How do you feel about death & dying after working at Woodland?
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The wildlife at Woodland is amazing!

Brienna: I think I’ve started thinking more about how sudden my death could be. As I just stated, it’s easy to remove yourself from situations at the cemetery, and to create a mental dichotomy between the dead and the alive. But that could change at any moment! This hasn’t made me more worrisome or cautious, because life happens, it’s just made me think about it.

Robyn: I’ve always heard that it is healthy to think about mortality, that considering your own finite time on earth allows you to live more fully. I didn’t come into this job scared of mortality, but I feel like I’m leaving with a better understanding and respect for the individuals who work in the funeral industry, providing support, compassion, and guidance to bereaved families during their time of need. It takes great strength to work in this industry, to be with these individuals during their last moments on the surface, or before cremation, and those moments are also part of the death & dying process in our world today. I feel privileged to have had this experience and a chance to be part of those moments too.

Thank you so much for joining us on this journey in monument conservation. We’ve loved working on these blogs and bringing the history, and the conservation processes to you this summer! Keep up with Woodland Cemetery History here on the blog, and on social media all year round to find out more about the exciting work being done at the cemetery, and to get info on upcoming tours and talks. Au revoir!

-Robyn & Brienna, 2019 Monument Conservators

Buried together: The Carter Sisters

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

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The Carter stones before cleaning.

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

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

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

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

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Breinna attempting to drill a dowel hole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margret’s stone ends with a poem which reads:

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

Catherine’s stone reads:

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

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

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

Tragic Death – Explosion at Bilton’s Soda Water & Pop Works

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).

The 1881 revised 1888 Fire Insurance Plan, showing the ‘Pop Works’ at 263 Dundas Street (Western Archives). Today, the ‘Rotary Reading Garden’ occupies the space.

“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).

J. Tune & Son, London, ON, 1890. (Image from Ivey Family London Room). The interior of Bilton’s may have been similar.

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.

Robert’s cleaned and set gravestone, Section K

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:

Want to see the stone for yourself?

Here’s a helpful map to aid you in your search. Let us know in the comments if you have any trouble finding the stone!

Stand at the southeast corner of the crematorium - you should see a sign for section K. Face that sign and head in towards the gravestones - you'll need to walk 20-30 steps to find the stone, but it might be less!
Stand at the southeast corner of the crematorium – you should see a sign for section K. Face that sign and head in towards the gravestones – you’ll need to walk 20-30 steps to find the stone, but it might be less!

Resurrecting gravestones with intact keys

Hello readers, and welcome back to another monument conservation blog post! Our historian counterparts are off at the archives today (I’m sure we can expect some really cool updates from them) so we are hiding from the rain and writing today. Not a bad way to start out a Wednesday if you ask me!

Today we wanted to talk about a project we worked on yesterday: resetting gravestones with intact keys. The ‘key’ of a gravestone is a fancy way to describe a base to support an upright monument (think stereotypical gravestone shape) that has a slot in the middle, which the grave is then placed inside. It holds up the stone without needing a very long stone buried in the ground, which is the way that older historic gravestones were constructed (think 17th – 18th centuries). If we find a fallen gravestone and are able to locate the key, it is a very lucky day for us!

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Mary’s gravestone in three pieces, preparing to be cleaned

This project involved two stones that we reset yesterday, both of which are located in section R of the cemetery, directly north of the crematory, and had fallen from their keys years earlier. The first marker was a cross on a decorative base, carved to resemble a pile of stones with a plaque on the south side and a scroll on the north, dedicated to Mary Mc C. Wood, who died on November 27, 1883 at the age of 18. The second stone, knocked over by a fallen tree years ago, featured Gothic points and tracery at the top, a hand pointing skyward, and two placed for names. It was carved for William Winslow who died September 4, 1877 and his wife Mary Ann Winslow, who died one year and one day earlier, on September 3, 1876. Both stones were made from marble, a very soft material.

Once we identified that the stones we wanted to work on resetting had intact keys, it was time to get to work!

Step 1: Level the gravestone key. Often the reason that the gravestone has fallen is because the ground has slumped and/or the gravestone itself has sunken unevenly, causing the upper portion of the marker to tilt and eventually fall. In order to level the key, we dug around the key to loosen it from the surrounding sediment, before raising it up in order to place limestone gravel below. The gravel will help level the marker, as well as provide drainage below and keep the stone from sinking back into the ground as quickly. It provides a hard base, and an alternative to pouring concrete into the ground!

Step 2: Clear the debris from the key & gravestone base. This is an important step, although it sounds mundane. By cleaning out things like moss, lichen, dirt, and pine needles, we can ensure a better and title seal between the gravestone, the key, and the mortar we use to attach the two together. If the mortar sticks to moss instead of stone, it isn’t going to hold the marker up for long.

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Brienna chiseling the base of the Winslow gravestone

Step 3: Prepare the base of the gravestone. Sometimes the bottom of the gravestone isn’t level, and it would take a lot of mortar to repair that issue, so we have to take chisels and hammers and carefully remove some of the uneven pieces of stone, so the marker will sit correctly in the key. We only do this if there is no inscriptions on the face of the stone that would be impacted by the process, however. We don’t want to chip away any last words, or the name of the gravestone carvers! Marble, despite being such a popular material for gravestones is actually quite soft, especially when it has been outside exposed to weathering for over 100 years, and it didn’t take much to level off the base of the Winslow stone. Don’t worry, we took our health and safety precautions, wearing gloves and safety glasses the entire time.

Step 4: Mix & place the limestone mortar. Before we can put the gravestone back into its newly leveled key, we need to prepare the lime mortar. Limestone, chalk, coral, sea shells, etc., are mainly composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). When heated the carbon dioxide (CO2) is burned away, resulting is calcium oxide (CaO).

  • CaCO3 + heat = CaO + CO2

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Applying lime mortar to the key of the cross. 

“The oldest uses of lime exploit its ability to react with carbon dioxide to regenerate calcium carbonate. When lime is mixed with sand and water, the result is mortar” (Lime: Calcium Oxide). Lime mortar is made from lime (limestone) and aggregate (typically sand) which is mixed with water to cause a chemical reaction forming calcium hydroxide, a process known as slaking the lime.

  • CaO + H2O = Ca(OH)2

The mortar can then be used to secure bricks, stones, and yes, even gravestones for years. It is vital to the survival of historic construction, as lime mortar draws moisture into itself and out of the material it is attached to. Eventually (>50 years) the mortar will start to crumble, and need to be re-pointed between the cracks. This might seem like a lot of work, but in the long term it will allow the stones or bricks to last longer (think 1000+ years, like the castles in Europe!). It has been common in the past for cement to be used during gravestone repairs, but this can be detrimental to the stones and by no means do we recommend this. Cement traps moisture inside the stone and can cause faster weathering as a result. You can see this phenomenon on many historic buildings as well.

Step 5: Carefully slot the gravestone back into the key. This process takes several people, and often the aid of a saw-horse or other supporting structures if the stone is large enough. When we get to this stage, the mortar has already been placed inside the key, ready for the gravestone! Several people tilt the gravestone up while someone guides it into the slot. Once the gravestone has been checked so we know it’s level, we grab a few masonry tools and point mortar into the spaces at the base, smoothing it out to ensure a clean finish. If the stone is very large, we might have to support it overnight to make sure it doesn’t slip out of place during the curing process.

There you have it! These are the first two gravestones that we have reset into their original keys during the 2019 season, and we could not be more pleased with the results. Once the mortar is set, we will be able to clean the stones properly and restore their colour a little closer to the original bright white that they once were. For now, however, we will admire our handiwork, as we continue working in Section R!

If you have any questions or comments about this project or any of the work we are doing this summer at Woodland, please put a comment below or send us an email! Thanks so much for your continued support.

(Photos in this post were taken by Robyn, Brienna, and Joey, 2019) 

Uncovering Chinese Gravestones: First Gravestone Restoration 2019

Hi everyone! This is the first blog post from Robyn and Brienna, the 2019 Monument Conservators here at Woodland Cemetery. We hope you enjoy following along with our work this summer, as we work to restore and conserve many of Woodland’s historic gravestones.

We decided to start out the summer working in the northeast corner of the cemetery, where several Chinese tablet markers were visible, scattered across the area. There was some semblance of rows, and while none of the existing stones were very close together, there had to be more that had sunken below the surface. How do gravestones sink, you might be wondering? Well, there are a number of factors that could cause it! If the casket or coffin below ground has collapsed, or the walls of the grave have been disturbed in any way, it can cause ground slumping, which often pulls the gravestone with it, causing it to lean or fall over. Natural sediment deposits and foliage growth will also collect on top of fallen monuments, eventually burying them underground.

Illustrated Cemetery Map
Map of Woodland Cemetery. The Chinese immigrant section is located on Cedar Rd, Section U.

The northeast end of the cemetery, as you can see on this map, is very close to the Thames River, which runs along the north boundary of the cemetery. There is quite a steep cliff here (stay far away from the cliff edge when you are visiting Woodland, the ground is not stable!) and the continued rain and hill-slumping in this area may cause quicker soil erosion and movement throughout the areas closest to it. There are many fallen and sunken monuments in this area…see if you can spot them when you’re walking through the site!

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Pin flags are used to mark potential buried markers

In order to find the sunken monuments, we have been using T-shaped rods, affectionately called ‘pokey sticks’, to carefully (carefully!!) prod the ground at an angle to see if we come in contact with anything buried below the surface. You can’t push too hard or the stones will be scratched! Once we notice something below the surface, we carefully dig towards the point to see if it is a natural rock…or an inscribed grave marker, if we’re lucky!

On our very first day, we uncovered not one, but two Chinese burial markers. These markers had not seen the light of day for many years, and it was exciting to bring them to the surface again for visitors to see. While we had spent the morning prodding the land, we actually found the first marker sitting on the ground and noticing a flat corner (too flat to be natural rock) poking through the earth. After uncovering, lifting, and cleaning the marker, we probed next to it, where we hit the second stone.

To clean the marker, we started by wiping the loose dirt off with paint brushes, and scrubbing the crevices with soft bristle brushes and water. We then sprayed the marker with a mixture of D2 and water. If you are attempting to clean a monument of your own, it is important that you only use these natural substances. If not, the stone will deteriorate much more quickly. For example, using soapy solutions will result in the chemicals seeping into the pores of the stone, which will expand and destroy the stone over time.

Also, any powder you pour onto a marker to read the inscription to make it more legible will help the monument erode more quickly. If you would like to read a marker with a nearly ineligible inscription, you can wash it as best you can, and take a photo, which you can zoom into or lighten to read.  Furthermore, if you hold a flashlight on an angle close to the marker, you can also illuminate parts of the stone that you might not otherwise be able to read.

After cleaning the markers, we reset them back in the ground on a bed of shale. This helps to prevent future sinking, and allows the water to drain underneath the marker. You can’t see it but it’s working to help keep  the markers visible and preserve this precious piece of history!!

We’re off for more digging probing, but stay tuned for more updates on these markers, and our future uncoverings!

 

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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Documentary on Tombstone Archaeology?

Hello everyone,

Sorry for not posting a blog yesterday! I hope you had a great long weekend (that is if you are reading this from Canada; so if not, hope you had a good weekend regardless!). Our week so far has been very productive.

We came to a realization this week that we got only 12 work days, as of August 09, left for the summer! Wow! Time really does fly. It seems like the first day we started our job – May 4th – was yesterday. I like to think that our team accomplished a lot of things during the three month period. Throughout the summer, we have been thoroughly video recording what we were doing. So cleaning, repairing, giving tours, etc. were all recorded!

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Alyssa filming Peter and MacKenzie

Now, what are we doing with all these video footages, you may ask. We hope to make a documentary out of these footages to be aired on Rogers TV. For now, we are calling it the “Tombstone Archaeology” documentary. I think it will be very interesting given that our job is very interesting. So we are not too far in the process since we started editing it this week. But I would like to share the process we have made so far.

First, we, as a group, reviewed all the footages we have. It was both very enjoyable and embarrassing experience. Listening to all the conversations we had was pretty hilarious. And all those bloopers! They were very – and I mean VERY – funny. Of course, if we were making mistakes or were not successful doing some job and were caught on camera (for example, there is a footage of me failing to shovel), they were quite embarrassing to watch.

Then Alyssa and I, who are responsible for creating this documentary, created a general story line we want to tell through the documentary and labeled our footages accordingly. We believed we were on the right track. We had all the file numbers written down on a sheet of paper, and what could possibly go wrong?

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Notes we were making for the documentary

Well, it was the file numbers that went wrong. As we were importing the video files to the program, Final Cut Pro, we are using, all the files renamed themselves. Video file #25 was no longer 25 but rather 20. This meant that Alyssa and I had to go through all the imported footages again to check if they were, in fact, the videos we wanted. When this was sorted out, we finally started editing the actual video! And this meant that we had to go through all the footages at least once more! We only did preliminary editing today. However, this was more tedious process than I had anticipated. All the side comments we made throughout the summer, made us laugh at the time, but editing those out… let’s just say it is less than pleasant. That being said, I am still enjoying the editing videos. I always enjoy learning new things! I can’t wait to finish editing them and share with you all.

… and a little bit more

For the past three months, we have learned a great deal about cemeteries. Our manager, Paul, is always eager to tell us everything he knows about the history of our cemetery and others around London, local historians such as Catherine McEwen and Dan Brock are eager to share their expertise on Middlesex County stonecarvers, and the librarians, archivists, and others working in the many libraries and archives we have visited alway seem pleased to see us and interested in our latest research. Everyone we have encountered has been extremely helpful in providing information and support in our efforts to uncover more and more Woodland Cemetery history.

As stated in the last blog post, Woodland was forced to move twice due to city expansion. Originally it was a church graveyard, but because it became overcrowded, a park-style cemetery was established outside city limits, where it was eventually overtaken by building and moved again to Woodland Park. These park-style cemeteries originated in Britain and were quickly picked up in the United States and Canada as well. Mourning was in fashion in the Victorian age, Queen Victoria’s mourning of her husband for much of her life influenced the way people thought of death and dying. Beautiful stone tablets were created as memorials for deceased loved ones and elaborate mourning customs were established to celebrate the dead. Death was romanticized, and was viewed as a natural part of life for the Victorians (see references to Victorian post-mortem photography). Cemeteries reflected this. While cities expanded and land within city limits became more desirable for living space, cemeteries were moved outside of cities to large parks for space and beautiful surroundings.

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Queen Victoria in mourning clothes

A few park-style cemeteries in England eventually became run down and repurposed into open spaces for the public. Gravestones were taken down or demolished and most signs that a cemetery was ever present vanished.

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Leeds General Cemetery in disrepair. Leeds, England.

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Woodhouse Cemetery in St George’s Field at the University of Leeds.

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Woodhouse Cemetery at the University of Leeds is a strange place. If one visits, it does not seem like a cemetery at all. The original stones that survived the area’s transformation are placed along a short path near one of the entrances and placed close together. The tiles that make up the walk way around the cemetery’s original chapel list the names of people who are buried in the field, with anywhere from one to around twenty on each stone. In the image above, you can see there is writing on the path (people’s names).

The Victorian cemetery allowed for people to openly celebrate the beauty of death. They would take picnics to the cemetery, visit their deceased loved ones, and make a day of it. They showcased the art of the day and popularized the idea of public parks for socializing and relaxing. They served as a beautiful quiet space inside of rapidly expanding, industrializing, and dirty cities.

However, the First World War ended this desire for park-style cemeteries. Death was no longer celebrated as young men died by the thousands, and death became viewed as more brutal, terrifying, and unknown. Cemeteries became quieter places, the sheer volume of deaths taking place during the war caused thousands of monuments to be erected in cemeteries to commemorate the brave sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands who fought for their country. Stones lost their unique artistry as death became less personal. Mourning became more private and with that, personality left the cemeteries.

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A war cemetery at Vimy Ridge in France.

A little bit on cemeteries…

For the final blog post of the week, I thought I would talk a little about the history of cemeteries. Since we work in one, it seemed overdue that we talk a little bit about the history of cemeteries in London as well as Woodland Cemetery in particular. There is a fantastic short history of Woodland Cemetery written by Levi a couple years ago that gives a brief overview of the movements of St Paul’s Cemetery from 1849 until the mid-1880s when the graves were settled in their final resting places.

Now, this summer has been quite the learning experience for me, as I have discovered a great deal about the history of London. Our team has had several visits from local historians, and our boss, Paul, is extremely knowledgable about much of London’s exciting history. The 1832 Cholera Epidemic – while the mortality rate was not exceptionally high, Londoners such as Dr Elam Stimson (mentioned in a previous blog post), lost loved ones and suffered through the epidemic as London was still a small, but growing city. The 1874 Komoka Train Fire, where a train car caught fire on its way from London to Sarnia. We only discovered this disaster as a memorial stone for two of the victims of the fire is located in Woodland and somewhat describes the incident (the rest of the story had to be researched from the Komoka Railway Museum’s website, but as someone who loves to learn about trains, this was no issue for me).19911695_10209276870215330_1580958185_o

The Victoria Day Disaster in 1881, when a steamship carrying 650 passengers capsized in the Thames and over 180 died in the disaster, many of whom were buried at Woodland Cemetery. Severe natural disasters, the Deluge of London West in 1883 and the Great Flood of London (1937) and fatal building collapses speckle London’s rich history and traces of them and their impacts can be seen at Woodland. While these stories are all extremely interesting and tragic, one can’t help but ask what these disasters have to do with cemeteries. Cemeteries are the resting places of the victims of these kinds of disasters. Through mourning practices of the time period, historians and the public can glean an idea of what life was like in different eras,

Cemeteries and the burial and mourning of the dead are centuries-old traditions that develop differently around the world based on available resources, religion, and cultural practices. We know of many burial practices for the ‘rich and famous’ of the ancient world. From mummification, and the great pyramids in Egypt and all the treasures they hold, the Terracotta Army protecting Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife, and the Mausoleum of Augustus, which houses many Roman Emperors.

In the late-Medieval and early modern period, we come across many more elaborate and fantastical monuments and burial tombs for the prosperous. Westminster Abbey, the Taj Mahal, and more modern cemeteries such as the Arlington National Cemetery, house royals, government figures, and other prominent societal figures. But what about the common people?

Also known as “grave fields”, prehistoric cemeteries varied based on geography, and the religion and culture of the society. The ancient pagans used many of the same burial rituals, such as burial mounds, shaft tombs, and cremation.

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Ancient burial mounds in Bahrain, photographed in 1956. From http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/31/world/meast/in-bahrain-development-chips-away/index.html

The Zoroastrians in Persia used ossuaries, often stone boxes where the remains of loved ones would be interred after they had decomposed, in order to preserve burial space. Over time, these ossuaries evolved to become much more elaborate (see the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic).

Much of the following information about Woodland Cemetery can be found in a wonderful brochure created by Levi, which I would highly recommend! Woodland Cemetery was not established until 1879, but we have graves from many years prior to the opening of the cemetery. These older graves comes from St Paul’s Cemetery, which was originally located right on the church’s grounds. In 1849, it was determined that the cemetery and all of its contents should be moved outside of town limits to where the Western Fairgrounds are today. It is also interesting to note that a cemetery located in a church yard is more commonly referred to as a graveyard and that a cemetery not within a church’s yard cannot be a graveyard (all graveyards are cemeteries but not all cemeteries are graveyards). The movement of many of the graves was due to overcrowding within the downtown area of London (the desire to allocate space for the living rather than the dead), and sanitation issues. Having water for city inhabitants running through a graveyard would be damaging to the health of people and could cause dangerous outbreaks of disease. So it was decided that they would be moved far outside of town limits where St Paul’s had purchased land for this purpose. The cemetery continued to function much like the cemeteries of the time. It had family lots for purchase and a Potter’s field, for those unable to purchase lots themselves. However, within 30 years, the city’s expansion overcame the new cemetery and St Paul’s looked to the west end of the city to build their new cemetery. In 1879, they purchased the land where Woodland stands today, established their Victorian park-style cemetery, and moved all the graves from the Western Fairgrounds, which took six years to complete!

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A streetcar on the Springbank Line c.1896. Woodland Cemetery is located on the right and the Thames River is on the left. Photo is from the London Room at London Public Library.

This all seems fairly ridiculous to us now. How could they keep moving a cemetery, filled with hundreds of bodies and gravestones to each new plot of land without missing any? They didn’t! Gravestones break in transit, particularly the tall, flat gravestones of the Victorian age, keys (the bottom part of the grave that goes into the ground and keeps the actual stone upright) were often taken and repurposed, leaving stones lying flat on the ground over the burial. Bodies were missed, stones misplaced, but it is still quite impressive that they moved so many without the technology and machinery we have today.

In the Victorian Era, mourning practices were extremely important. Queen Victoria herself had inspired a certain style for commoners in her realm to follow; wearing black, sombre gatherings, and the commissioning of detailed, personalized monuments for the dead gained popularity among the people of London, Ontario. The end of the American Civil War in the 1860s and the completion of the railroad in the late-nineteenth century allowed for more sturdy material to be brought in for building gravestones. Marble came in from quarries in Vermont, largely replacing the older sandstone gravestones as it was less likely to erode and break, and was more aesthetically pleasing.

This post is becoming a little bit long and I wanted to include more about the week we had so I will have to conclude the history of cemeteries another week. Stay tuned!

This week was much of the same, but the poor weather conditions prevented us from mortaring and gluing stones. So we had a couple of research days and did what we could at the cemetery, cleaning and using putty to seal multi-level monuments back into place. We also got to visit the Museum of Ontario Archeology on Wednesday, which was a great deal of fun! We spoke to the archeology summer campers and got to tell them all about tombstone archeology. The campers had a lot of really good questions and they were a great audience!

I came across an interesting article while researching cemeteries, so if you’re interested in reading up on pet burials, here is a short article on interesting cases of animals being given ritualistic burials.

The Russian Flu Pandemic 1889-93

As Peter previously mentioned in Friday’s blog post, we discovered the gravestones of 3 young girls, Mary, Minnie, and Clara, last week. Initially, we thought they were orphans from the Protestant Orphan’s Home due to the small size and lackluster appearance of the markers, but soon discovered that they were in fact, sisters. Their cemetery plot had been purchased by their father, James Perkins. Given this information, and the short period of time in which they died (January-March 1891), we concluded they must have died from some kind of contagious disease.

MacKenzie suspected that they could have died from the Russian Flu, as the time of their deaths occurs shortly after the disease reached the big cities in Canada, including London. This lead me to research more on the Russian flu epidemic, particularly its presence and impact in Canada.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about the Russian flu (even though it caused around one million deaths worldwide – in relation to today’s population, it would be around 420 million people suddenly dying), let alone the Russian flu in Canada. It reached major Canadian cities in early 1890, including Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal, and even London. The image below is a map compiled by a team of international scholars in the early 1890s, showing the spread of the flu across the globe.

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This image from <https://circulatingnow.nlm.nih.gov/2014/08/11/mapping-the-1889-1890-russian-flu/> tracks the arrival and movement of the flu across the globe.

The Russian flu was not as detrimental as the later, and more famous, Spanish flu, but it is hypothesized that the Russian flu made the Spanish one following the First World War, much more dangerous. Based on the theory of ‘first antigenic sin’, it seems that the arrival of the Russian flu made survivors develop antibodies that would prove useless against the more evolved Spanish flu that occurred later.

It is difficult to track the progress of the Russian flu, as it is not as heavily studied as other influenza epidemics in North America. The articles that exist are heavily based on medical and statistical analyses (luckily I love statistics, so it has been enjoyable for me!), and can be difficult for historians to interpret.

It would be difficult to track the direct deaths from the epidemic as many, such as the Perkins sisters, could have perished due to complications. Based on their death records, two of the sisters died from respiratory infections that were likely caused by the flu. Furthermore, it is likely that Canadian newspapers were not eager to publish reports and outbreaks of the flu in their cities as it would discourage immigration, which was needed to help grow the nation’s population and economy.

This research on the Russian flu proved to be very interesting. I learned about something I had never heard of before, and had the pleasure of looking at plenty of statistical charts and maps!