Secrets of the Gravestones!

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

Marion Phillips’s gravestone, 1851.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemporary hidden writing!

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

The results of a rusted pin…

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

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

Sharon’s Field Placement in Thanatology

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

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

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

Crane* Day! (*Actually a Backhoe)

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

This is why you don’t lean on monuments!

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

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

Cleaning, drilling, and chiseling the monument!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final product.

Lichen and Moss and Ivy, Oh My!

Do you ever walk through a cemetery and wonder why lichen colonies blanket some monuments, but not others? Or wonder how you can clean them off of your loved one’s stone? Well, here I list everything I’ve learned while working at Woodland about biological growths and how to clean them!

Every stone we’ve worked on so far has required multiple washes to clean the biological growths off the stone. While mud and most plant matter usually comes off with a spritz of water and a gentle scrub, some monuments need a more extensive cleaning with intervals of D2 and water.

D2 is a biological substance that we use to clean our stones. If you’ve been following our Instagram stories, it’s what we’ve been using in our dramatic before/after images that contrast blackened stones to stark white ones. D2 is the only substance we are comfortable using on monuments because it doesn’t have any destructive chemicals. (We aren’t sponsored by D2, I swear!)

Plant matter will find any crack they can to grow out of; this grass is growing out from between the key and marker!

Substances that are destructive to monuments includes salt; powders such as baby powder and flour; and household cleaners such as dish soap, window cleaner, or bathroom cleaner. Particulates of these substances can leach into the stone’s surface, and expand over time. This results in a faster deterioration of the stone – which is the opposite of what we want! On the contrary, D2 reacts to water and sunlight, to eat most biological growth and eventually bleach the stone closer to its original colour.

When a stone has extensive biological growth, precautions must be taken in removing them, otherwise you risk destroying the stone. When we clean a stone covered in lichen and moss, we spray it with D2 and water, and are easily able to scrub it off. However, if a plant with larger roots has attached to a stone, a few extra steps must be taken. If you pull out a plant with roots that reach deep into the stone, it has the potential to take out chunks of stone with it. Therefore, its so very important to cut the plant at the base, where it enters the stone, and let the roots die! Once the plant is cut from its roots, you can either let it die naturally, or spray it with D2 to quicken the process and prevent future plants from taking root in the same place. This will stop the plant from eating its way further into the stone, and keep the face of your precious monument intact.

Lichen has trouble attaching to polished granite!

Why do plants grow into stones, you may ask? Well, the older monuments we’ve been working on are primarily made from marble and sandstone. Marble has a very high calcium carbonate content, which plants find delicious. Sandstone can have this too, depending on the composition of that particular stone. Moreover, both these rock types are porous, which allows the roots to travel and expand. On the other hand, we have many granite monuments that are just as old as our lichen covered marble ones, but have no to little lichen and moss growth! This is because it’s difficult for plants to attach onto granite, especially when it’s polished!

Such an interesting lichen pattern!

Certain conditions foster better environments for growth than others. For example, monuments underneath trees accumulate various fallen biological matter, such as sap and leaves. They can also collect water pools from consistent dripping off of branches! All of these events can stain the monument, and allow for moss and lichen growth! We found a stark example of this in Section R the other day, when we found this Ann/Walker monument with two wide streaks of lichen growth on either side of the stone, but a nearly pristine center! This growth pattern exists because matter drips onto the monument from the tree above, but is divided by the peak at the centre of the monument before dripping down the sides. We chose not to clean the monument, because this amount of lichen will not harm the stone, and it will continue to grow like this until the tree is cut down.

Can you spot the hidden marker? Grass encroaches on tablets quickly!

Another way that biological matter negatively impacts our stones is by helping them to sink underground. Most commonly at Woodland Cemetery, grass clippings and dead leaves accumulate on top of tablets and fallen markers, which decomposes and eventually can cover the entire monument. The grass surrounding the monument can then grow onto it, either fully or partially, which makes it very difficult to identify that a marker has fallen there. Sometimes, the only way to find these markers is by randomly probing areas with our T-shaped rods, in hopes of hitting a marker. Sometimes we guess where to probe by searching for small slumps in the ground covered by damp leaf piles, or my looking for gaps in rows and columns of markers!

While we would prefer to locate and display all the sunken monuments, they are actually better preserved if left underground. The dirt protects them from pollution and substances that would otherwise blacken and deteriorate the stone! This is visible on the stones we’ve found partially underground and reset, as they have dark rings in the center from being exposed to harmful substances in the air! However, we think its important to raise the monuments regardless, so that the individual and their history are not forgotten.

Despite its age, this stone is in such good condition because we found it completely underground!

And oftentimes, we leave moss and lichen on monuments. This is partially because we have to prioritize our time over many tasks and monuments, but also because this is something to be expected with any outdoor monument. Plant growth is natural to a rock’s life cycle, and sometimes, we should allow them to take that cycle.

Testing Alternative Setting Methods: Derusha Setting Compound

This week we’ve raised two stones using a method we’ve never tried – we applied a latex sealant from Derusha Supply to the base to hold them upright.

After cleaning up our last site in Section R, where we had raised three stones and uncovered many tablets, Robyn and I decided to venture off into other sections. When we decided to set up camp to fix these stones, we thought we were exploring a whole new section of the cemetery! But, we soon laughed when we realized we had just found more work in Section R… only slightly over from where we were!

The stone we started with here was short, and the different components of it had separated from each other. This included the marker, base, and foundation. Luckily for us, these components were all intact with no scratches, cracks, or missing chunks. To begin piecing these pieces back together, we dug them out and moved them from the site, so that we could level the hole and raise the monument. Once we dug out the hole, we dumped in a few buckets of limestone screening, to prevent the monument from sinking in the future. This is probably my favourite part of the process, because you get to jump in the hole to compact it!

When we were happy with the new, shallower depth of our hole, we carried the foundation back in, and laid a roll of Derusha sealant on it to match the circumference of the base that we’d be placing on top. We placed dimes in the four corners to act as spacers, and then lifted the base back in place. Gravity may have sufficed in keeping this upright without the Derusha, but we wanted to add these extra measures just to be sure. You never know what could knock a monument – we’ve even heard of deer jumping into stones!

Once the base was in place and we had scraped away the excess sealant that seeped out the edges, we were nearly ready to raise the monument. We noticed that the monument used to have a metal rod attaching the monument to the base, however it was no longer attached. So, we drilled holes in both ends and used wooden dowels as pins to keep it upright.

Usually this is when we are able to pat ourselves on the back and let the monument sit to dry before adding mortar… but not this time! Somehow the monument’s back had chipped just along the base, which made it almost curved and very difficult to stand straight. Luckily for us, we always have an excess of tools and materials in our cart, and we realized we could cut up the leftover wooden dowel and jam it underneath! This kept the monument perfectly straight while the sealants set, and we shoved as much mortar as we could fit the next day to further support it.

The second monument we erected with Derusha

We decided to stay in this section for a couple extra days after finishing this monument, because there were a few other easy fixes, and this area is visible from a well traveled cemetery road. We cleaned a few monuments with D2 and water, edged around a tablet, probed for potential markers, and fixed two other monuments. We used Derusha for one of these monuments, because the crevice in the base for the marker to sit in was quite shallow. This monument involved the same processes as the previous one, such as levelling the ground with limestone screening. However, this stone did not require pins, because it’s stable and not top-heavy.

Our final fix in this section involved attaching a small marble urn back to the top of a monument. We found the urn resting against the base of the monument, and feared it might sink or get lost if we left it. Since the monument was under a tree with thick foliage, it was covered in lichen and moss. There were five pieces made from marble (!!!) and two from sandstone. We sprayed the whole monument in D2 to kill any plant matter and roots leaching into the stone and breaking it, but we only scrubbed the marble, because sandstone cannot really be cleaned. After the top had dried, we drilled one pin into it, and reattached it with a wooden dowel.

Now it’s time to pack up and find a new section… perhaps something outside of Section R this time?

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