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.
Located deep towards the back of Woodland Cemetery, in one of the ground’s oldest sections, lies a memorial to one John Parkinson Jr. A tall obelisk that dwarfs the graves of his parents buried beside him sheds light on the circumstances of his death. It reads “John, son of John and Bridget Parkinson, died at Atlanta, GA, October 15th 1864, aged 17 y’rs.”
Immediately, this inspires curiosity in the observer. Why is there a memorial to a 17 year old at Woodland Cemetery in London, Ontario, when he died in Georgia? Although it was becoming more and more common for people from all walks of life to move about in the world, such an inscription still indicates interesting circumstances surrounding his death. At this point, anyone proficient in United States’ history will tell you that this was around the time of the Battle of Atlanta in the American Civil War.
Curious as to the possibility that John Parkinson may have served in the American Civil War I checked military records for anyone bearing his name. Immediately, I found a internment certificate that matched his name and age. As “John Parkinson” is a common name, the date of death was significant as it matched the date on his tombstone, confirming that this certificate did in fact belong to the Parkinson memorialized at Woodland. The document indicated that Parkinson had been buried in the Marietta National Cemetery, Georgia, and that he had a separate stone marking his actual burial location.
The document also sheds light on his experience during the Civil War. It indicates that John served as a private in the Union Army, a member of the 10th Michigan Infantry. Curiously, the 10th Michigan Infantry, which operated from 1862-1865, was a volunteer battalion. This suggests that John Parkinson willingly traveled south to fight in the bloodiest conflict in American history.
Parkinson’s cause of death is listed in Union Army records as well, indicating that he succumbed to typhoid fever at a general hospital near Atlanta rather than being killed in combat. At the time, disease could be a far greater killer in war than combat itself, the inevitable result of thousands of humans packed close together, with poor hygiene practices and inadequate medical care. In fact, of the 20 deaths listed on the same page as John Parkinson, only one of them was killed in action.
However, there are still several questions about John Parkinson’s story that are more difficult to answer, such as his motivations for volunteering for the Union Army in the first place. An agricultural census taken in 1861 indicates that John Parkinson Sr. was a farmer in the region at the time, holding 30 acres of land. As such, we can assume that John Parkinson Jr. came from humble origins, and may have seen military service as a way to earn a decent wage.
In a further step to uncover John Parkinson Jr.’s story, I accessed microfilm copies of the London Free Press from the Civil War Period, courtesy of Western University. While I did not track down any article describing a Londoner dying while serving the Union Army in the Civil War, there were several articles describing recruiting agents operating in the area. The Free Press alleged that recruiters were enticing young men from the area by painting an extremely enticing picture of life in the army, promising good wages and a dignified career. The article warned that such recruiters were not to be trusted, as some were not even representatives of the Union Army, but con artists seeking to steal the fee men paid for their uniforms and travel.
Based on such information it is entirely likely that John Parkinson Jr. was not content with his life as a farmer’s son for one reason or another, and instead traveled south to fight for the Union as a way of escaping from it. A recruiter may have played a prominent role in this decision, but that is uncertain. His parents, distraught as losing their son in a faraway land, chose to erect a monument at Woodland Cemetery so they could find a place to mourn and remember John. When the time came, they chose to be buried next to his monument.
I reached out to the 10th Michigan Re-enactment group, who still hold some files on the division, to see if any more details about his service could be revealed, however they could not provide me with anything new. Perhaps further research can uncover more details of what John experienced during his time serving in the army, as the story of a Londoner serving in the Union Army is certainly a unique one.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, in Egypt
Terracotta soldiers in Xi’an, China
An engraving of how the Mausoleum of Augustus appeared in 1575
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.
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!
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.