Perfectly Preserved: Baby Ida Grace

This summer we have uncovered and rest many gravestones that belonged to infants or children. Unfortunately, due to high mortality rates in the past, this is not all together unusual. This doesn’t make it any less jarring when a stone comes out of the ground and we see the tell-tale lamp carving, or see the abbreviations of ‘months’ and ‘days’ at the base of the stone. Through our work here at Woodland, we are happy to have been able to raise many infant stones and remind people of these young individuals who didn’t get to experience a full life, and perhaps a little of what life was like back then.

Today’s post is about a gravestone that has been near to our hearts all summer long, that of baby Ida Grace Laing. We uncovered her stone at the northeast side of Section R, near the tall granite monument with the polished ball on the top, near the beginning of our time at the cemetery. Like many of the small gravestones we have worked with over the last eight weeks, Ida’s stone was completely underground. Luckily, Brienna is the queen of finding buried monuments like these, and while probing a row with a suspicious break in it, came across the stone!

Once we knew there was a stone there, we started the exciting task of edging and uncovering the stone. This is always the most exciting part, because we have no idea what we are going to find below the sod layer…will it be a natural rock, a tree root, a section marker or pin (ugh not again), or a stone? Will the stone be intact? Will it have a key? Will it even need one?? It’s always a surprise!

When we peeled back the sod, a wonderful sight befell our eyes…the perfectly preserved and intact gravestone of Ida Grace, complete with a tiny lamb on the top, barely weathered inscription, and to our delight, no major staining. It is likely that the stone sunk or was covered fairly quickly after it fell over (or was laid down), and biological grown or chemical weathering were not given the opportunity to discolour of otherwise adversely affect the surface of the stone. This is wonderful news, and meant that when we cleaned the stone it would come out beautifully.

D2, water, and a little elbow grease, and Ida’s stone was cleaned without too much trouble. If you look in the photos, you’ll see that the base of the stone has a tab sticking out of it. That was set into the original key, which we were unfortunately unable to locate in the area. Instead, we decided to have a new key made from cement! This does not mean cementing gravestones in place. This is a bad idea and is detrimental to the stone.

Preparing the key was a relatively simple process. Joey made a simple wood frame, and we used the measurements of the frame to dig a hole in the ground for it to be set. We dug farther than the base of the key would sit, in order to fill the hole with limestone screening to help keep it level and provide drainage. One the frame was in place, cement from the bucket of the back-hoe was shoveled in, and a little mould was screwed in place to create the slot for the gravestone. This piece was covered in plastic, so it could easily be removed from the cement after it had set.

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Joey, putting cement in the frame. Ida’s gleaming white stone is in the centre of the image!

Two days later we returned to the area, and removed the mould. Unfortunately the cement wasn’t completely dry yet, so we would have to wait a little longer before we could reset the stone completely! While it could probably have been set at that point, we didn’t want to take any chances with the gravestone leaning and putting unnecessary pressure on the tacky cement, potentially causing it to crack and/or fail.

Luckily we only had to wait 2 more days before the cement was cured enough to work with! To set Ida’s stone, we mixed limestone mortar and applied it to the slot in the newly-made key. Then, we carefully lifted Ida’s stone and lowered it into the slot. The stone was then braced on both sides (once we checked that it was level of course) and left to dry. After the limestone had dried, we used some more mortar to point the base of the stone to prevent water from getting inside…and voila! Ida Grace’s stone was finished! Her inscription reads:

In Memory
of
IDA GRACE
Infant Daughter
of
George & Caroline Laing.
DIED
Aug. 29. 1872,
AE 1 yr 2 Mo’s & 4 Dys
________
Suffer little children to come
unto me, and forbid them not.
Luke. XVIII. 16

Powell & Son.

As always, thank you for reading and following along with our conservation journeys at Woodland Cemetery! If you are interested in visiting Ida, or any of the stones we have talked about on the blog, staff at Woodland would be happy to assist you in locating their graves.

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In Memory of: Resetting children’s gravestones at Woodland

It is always a somber moment when we uncover the gravestone of a child. The size is usually a give away, or the iconography, but especially when the dirt falls away and reveals their age. These gravestones often fall and are buried, and we are grateful for our position to be able to bring them back from below the surface, clean and restore them, and bring their names back into the public memory. In doing so, we are able to research the individuals and learn a little more about their lives, however short.

Today we’d like to discuss two infant gravestones that we have been working to restore over the last week. They are both made from marble, but are completely different styles and required different types of repairs to ensure that they can stand for decades to come.

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Billie McFarland’s gravestone before conservation

First, we wanted to repair a gravestone that we came across on the first day of our orientation here at Woodland. Located in Section EC amidst many other graves to infants and children from the early 20th century, this small marble cross had snapped in half cleanly, and was laying on the ground beside the base. There is a stuffed dog sitting by the gravestone, and we knew we had to fix it as soon as possible!

This stone was a ‘complex’ fix, meaning it would require a pin, but compared to other, larger gravestones, this one only needed a single pin. We decided to use wood pins, so that if the same crack failed again, the pin would break with the stone rather than remaining stiff and potentially causing additional damage. Groundskeeper Joey had done this kind of repair before, and taught us the basics!

First we marked the gravestone base with lipstick and positioned the top over it to mark both sides. We would like to be clear that after this stone, and one other, we will not be employing this technique any longer as the lipstick is extremely difficult to remove from the stone’s surface. We strive to learn about conservation at the cemetery, and while this process was employed in the past we feel that it is no longer acceptable.

Next we drilled the holes, after measuring and cutting the wood pin. After several tries, since the holes should be an even depth to house the pin, we put sealant inside the holes, as well as small dots inside the broken area and reset the stone. You can see it above being held in place with a clamp and two pieces of wood, since the sealant needs about a day to harden!

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Finished repair!

We returned later the following day to remove the wood and apply lime mortar to the crack, in order to create a cohesive surface on all sides of the gravestone, and to keep water from dripping inside the crack. It looks wonderful, and we are so happy to have been able to restore this child’s gravestone to the monument to them that it was meant to be all along.

Second, is the Wright gravestone, located in Section R. This marker wasn’t broken, but we found it completely underground beside the Wright family monument while excavating a piece of curbing. As we brushed the dirt away, we saw the image of a sleeping sheep at the top of the stone, and immediately knew that it was a child’s gravestone.

The gravestone was laying flat below the sod layer, directly next to the family’s larger granite monument. Because it dated to 1854, we could immediately tell a few things about the stone. Firstly, the early date indicates that the child, Eliza, was originally buried at St. Paul’s churchyard in downtown London. Her grave was relocated to Woodland due to by-laws restricting burial inside the city limits, after it opened in 1879. It appears that the family has continued to use the same plot for decades!

Luckily, this gravestone was in one piece! The early date gave us another interesting clue about the marker: it likely did not have a key! If you look closely at the gravestone image above where it is still laying in the ground, the final lines of the poem end over at least 1 foot above the bottom of the gravestone. This suggests that the gravestone did not have a key, and was instead set directly into the ground. The long base of the marker provided stability in case of frost heave or other natural processes which can cause the sediment to move. Next time you’re at Woodland, take a look at how close the text gets to the bottom of gravestones with keys for comparison! 

This meant it would be an easy fix, so we set to work carefully moving the marker so we could clean it with D2 and water. Markers that have been underground for ages are a lot easier to clean than partially buried ones, because they typically aren’t covered in lichen or moss! This one was easy to clean, and we quickly set to work digging the hole to reset the stone into. Once this was measured and dug, we packed the bottom with limestone screening for stability, to prevent sinking, and to allow drainage around the gravestone. After placing the marker in its new home, we packed all sides with additional screening to support it, and covered the top layer with sod. Due to the matching names on this marker and the adjacent one, and it’s location, we knew approximately where it should stand in the plot.

Now that Eliza’s gravestone is back up, we can return to raising the corner stones of this plot, along with the decorative curbing on one side of the monument. This plot is adjacent to several others we are working on at the moment, and the area is going to look completely different when we are done this summer. If you are in the area, take a moment to visit the graves of these children, and think about how different life must have been back then.

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