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

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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!

Weathering & Stone: A Love Story

Stone (to use the more anthropological and less geological term, in the context of human usage) seems to be forever. That is what we imagine when we’re choosing our gravestones. The North American settler intention for burials is that when the grave plot is purchased, it belongs to that family in perpetuity. The grave it eternal, so that means so should be the marker, right?

Stone has another idea, though. Stone, like everything else on this planet has a birth, a lifespan, and a death. Yes, even the gravestone so lovingly chosen to be the last earthly reminder of an individual, shall too eventually give in to the forces of nature and crumble, crack, and fall (to paint a dramatic picture). While we, as monument conservators, are working to conserve the historic gravestones which have sunken, broken, or fallen out of their keys, we also recognize that sometimes the gravestone is too far gone. Restoration of these gravestones could do more harm to it than good, repairing missing sections, attempting to patch together crumbling pieces, obscuring text, and potentially cracking the remaining pieces in an effort to restore them.

Today we will be looking at the major players in the downfall of these gravestones in the form of different types of weathering. Weathering comes in many different shapes and sizes as natural processes, and can impact the lifespan of the gravestone directly.

Weathering Terms

Example of contour weathering from Durham, CT
Sandstone sugaring and flaking away from a gravestone

The following terminology is based on the list developed by Dr. Inkpen (ND), and is summarized below with examples, and additional examples.

Sugaring: Mineral grains on the surface of the stone are coming loose. It will feel a bit like sand or sugar to the touch, and grains will fall. Letting takes on a more rounded appearance. Also called ‘granular disintegration’.

Flaking: Fragments of stone are detaching from the surface of the stone. This is particularly noticeable on sandstones. This is also known as ‘spalling’.

Blistering: The surface of the gravestone will appear raised or domed, and will sound hollow when tapped gently.

Contour Weathering: The entire surface of the gravestone breaks away in one sheet. It’s extremely dramatic!

Pitting: Depressions in the surface of the stone, caused by any form of weathering. These can be measured and compared in the future to track the rate of degradation.

Black Crust: One of the most distinctive forms of weathering is the infamous ‘black crust’ that forms on all types of stone. It often appears in more sheltered areas, such as below trees, the crust is comprised of calcium sulphate, a ‘crust formed by dry deposition’ (Inkpen ND). This crust forming usually indicates an accumulation of soot or other debris on the surface of the stone.

Organic forms / Biological Growth: The growth of lichen or moss on the surface of a grave stone often indicates that the area is moist. You can notice lichen growth on particular portions of a gravestone if the top is shaped in such a way that water pours down the face only in specific areas.

How does it happen?

But what causes a stone to fail, to die? The natural processes of weathering work in every corner of this planet, shaping mountains, pushing trees, changing what might otherwise seem impermeable. Weathering is the break-down of rocks while in situ (Tymon 2012). Weathering is often mixed up with erosion: Erosion There are three types of weathering that all effect the look, feel, and longevity of a gravestone:

– Chemical Weathering
– Physical Weathering
– Biological Weathering

“Processes of weathering are generally associated with particular types of gravestones or particular environments” (UCL 2019). This means that acid rain will eat away at limestone faster than granite, due to its high calcium carbonate content. Water collecting in the base of a softer stone may cause it to break in that area quicker, due to increased weathering in conjunction of the high moisture content. We will explore the major components of weathering below.

Chemical Weathering

Chemical weathering is caused by chemical reactions between substances such as acid rain with the surface of the stone (Tymon 2012).
Hydrolysis, caused by rain which is acidic due to picking up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This reacts with minerals, causing them to break down and be washed away.
Oxidation is caused by iron in the stone oxidizing, or rusting, when water and air are present. This causes stains to the gravestone, and can often be seen as the orange/yellow/brown patina on sandstones, due to their mineral content.
Carbonation is caused by rain water reacting with minerals which contain carbonate. This is particularly an issue for calcium carbonate-heavy stones such as marble, limestone, and sandstones. If water gets inside the stone it can cause pieces to fall off the face of the gravestone as the minerals is eaten away.

Physical Weathering
Weathering and erosion have caused the face of this cross to wear away

There are two main types of physical weathering that you might notice while out and about in the cemetery: Expansion-contraction & Freeze-thaw.
Expansion-Contraction Weathering is also known as exfoliation or delimitation of the gravestone, and is caused by the expansion of the stone itself in the heat, and the contraction of the stone in cold. This is particularly an issue in modern cemeteries with sprinkler systems (NCPTT 2018).
Freeze-Thaw Weathering deals with water seeping into cracks in the stone and freezing, which causes the water to expand and can further crack or break the stone. This is especially noticeable in places that have temp extremes like..oh…Ontario?
There is also weathering by wind, which is a force against the stone but often combines with other weathering processes to react with the surface of the stone. Say the stone was weakened by chemical weathering, and then wind blows against the surface, blowing away those loose particles and cause the surface of the stone to alter. This is common, and you can often see more heavily weathered stones in windy, wet areas.

Biological Weathering
This key was damaged by plant roots, which ate through the stone and broke this piece off.

Biological weathering is defined as damage done to the gravestone as the result of plant life impacting the stone. It may be surprising to hear, but lichens, moss, and vines attach themselves to the stone and take nutrients out of the stone, such as calcium. This essentially means they eat into the surface of the stone, taking away physical pieces off and weakening the structure. The attachment points of moss and lichen are called rhizoids, which secrete acid which cause chemical breakdown of the materials, while ivy attaches with small root-like structures or suckers, and while the leaves can provide protection from the rain, they suck nutrients and therefore structural components from the stone itself (Tymon 2012). Have you ever seen a house that had vines removed, and it is now covered in streaks from where they were attached? That is because it was eating into the brick! (there will be a whole post on biological growth and weathering!)

Conclusions

Example of deteriorated gravestone, which is too far gone to be restored.

There you have it, the story of weathering and how it causes the eventual breakdown of even the toughest of stones. If we didn’t have weathering and erosion, we wouldn’t have canyons, hoodoos, or the need for monument conservators!

While we try our best to conserve gravestones that can be helped, sometimes the gravestones have been at the mercy of weathering and erosion for far too long, and it would be detrimental to that stone to attempt to put it back together. It is a case by case basic, and when a gravestone has begun to rapidly deteriorate, like the example shown here, we do our best to display the stone and conserve it in its present state. This might involve limestone screening to keep it from sinking. When we restore a gravestone, we want to make sure it is the right action to take for the lifespan of that stone!

Weathering impacts all gravestones, no matter what conditions they are in. You can see the effects of weathering on many of our gravestones throughout Woodland Cemetery, on all types of stones. We are planning a post detailing biological weathering impacts, with an in-depth look at what plant life can do to gravestones, so keep your eyes peeled!

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

References:

Inkpen, Rob. ND. Gravestone Weathering. Gravestone weathering.

NCPTT. 2018. Gravestones Bite The Dust. National Centre for Preservation Technology and Training.

Tymon, Alison. 2012. Weathering Processes on Headstones and Monuments. West Yorkshire Geology Trust. Weathering Processes on Headstones and Monuments.

UCL. 2019. Gravestone Weathering. University College London. Gravestone weathering.

The Hugessen Monument: Uncovering & Restoration

At the beginning of our first week, we were told the there was a special project waiting for us out in Section R: The Hugessen Monument. After a few days of getting out conservation bearings, we headed over to check it out, shovels in hand, excited to begin what would turn into a four-week project with a lot of surprises!

The monument, a large, simple marble gravestone with a curved top, is dedicated to Richard Hugessen. The stone reads:

IN
MEMORY OF
RICHARD ASTLEY KNATCHBULL HUGESSEN
LATE CAPTAIN 57TH REGt
THIRD SON OF THE
RIGHT HONble SIR E. KNATCHBULL [BAR.]
OF KENT, ENGLAND
AND FANNY CATHERINE
HIS SECOND WIFE.
BORN SEPTEMBER 9th 1832.
DIED AT SAN FRANCISCO AUGUST 29th 1875.
______________
In the midst of life we are in death.

Portrait of Fanny Catherine (unknown painter)

According to the burial records, both Capt. Hugessen and his mother Fanny are buried within the plot, but the records state that Fanny’s burial was ‘undocumented’, and there is no gravestone on the site to mark her burial there. Find A Grave indicates that she is buried with her late husband in Goodnestone, Swale Borough Kent, England The only mention of her, sans married or maiden names, is as the second wife and mother of Richard, named above. Woodland’s burial record books from 1882, the year of Fanny’s death, do not indicate that anyone by that name is buried at the cemetery, however our digital records show 2 burials within the plot. What this could indicate, we aren’t 100% sure, but is either an error in our records or perhaps Fanny was buried here for a time before being returned to England or visa versa.

Woodland boasts quite a few famous people and the Hugessen-Knatchbulls are no exception. Fanny Catherine was the niece of Jane Austen! Fanny’s father, Edward Austen (later Knight) was one of Jane Austen’s brothers and Fanny was his oldest child. Jane wrote how fond she was of her young niece in several letters, and she was immortalized in paintings and sketching befitting her title of ‘Lady or Dame’ after marriage to Sir. Edward Knatchbull. A newspaper article from the London Gazette in England dating to 1849 states that ‘Dame Fanny-Catherine Knatchbull…may take and henceforth use the surname of Hugessen in addition to and after that of Knatchbull, and bear the arms of Hugessen quarterly with those of their own family.’ This indicates that a title had been granted to the family, and the Hugessen name appears on the gravestone as the final portion of her son Richard’s name.

Richard Astley died of typhoid fever in San Francisco California on August 29th, 1875. His family paid to have his body returned to London so it could be buried in the family plot. The Woodland burial records indicate he was interred on September 9th, 1875 at St. Paul’s Cathedral churchyard, and would have been transferred to Woodland in/after 1879 when the cemetery opened. What Richard’s connection to London is, we are still trying to figure out, but we do know that he served in the British 57th Regiment of Foot as an ensign in 1851, was made lieutenant in 1854, and Captain by 1855. The regiment became part of the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment) after the army reforms of 1881.

Richard was married to Lummey Minter(?) Kelly in 1857 in Middlesex, England, but we have been unable to find anything about her in the records, regarding where they lived and why Richard ended up in San Francisco at his time of death. If you know anything more about their story, please leave us a comment!

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The North curb exposed

We knew we had to reset this wonderful gravestone, but after ages of probing around the area, it was no where to be found. However, what we did uncover during the search was the buried curbing which once surrounded the entirety of the burial plot! Ornate on the north side facing a relic pathway, the large sandstone pillars and heavy curbs between them must have imposed an impressive sight on the landscape when they were new. This project had shifted from a simple resetting of a gravestone to a large undertaking…we had to reset the curbs too! Unfortunately for us, that meant a lot of digging because those curbs are deceptively deep underground.

Once we had the curbs loose from their pits, it took a lot of effort to raise them out of the ground and set them on the edges, ready to be reset again. While the north side of the curbing was very ornate and large, the rest of the sides were thinner and shorter, which made them much easier to move around! With all the curbs out of the ground, we cleaned up the ditches and Joey brought us several loads of limestone gravel to put below them. We raised them several inches, so that the tops of the stones are peaking out above the grass, similar to how they would have originally been set.

This is a labour-intensive process, and we were glad to have three people on site to help with it…those stones get pretty heavy, especially near the end of the day!

With all of the curbs back in place, we filled the sides almost level with the surrounding sod with the limestone gravel and stomped it down between shovel-fulls in order to compact the material and make sure the curbs don’t slump one way or the other while settling. Soon, topsoil and grass seed will be added to cover the gravel and repair the lawn! We are pretty excited to see the entire curb above ground again, especially when we all had no idea it was below the surface when we started this project.

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The reset curb (southeast corner is missing)

The next step was prepare the actual Hugessen gravestone for resetting. This involved getting a new key made for the marker. This process is carried out by the wonderful team in the garage, who have created a form which can be filled with cement to the correct dimensions for the gravestone in question. While the base is cement, it will not be attached to the gravestone with cement, but rather fitted in place with lime mortar, negating the potential damage from the other material.

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A mould to create cement gravestone keys.

After taking measurements to ensure we made the right sized base, the stone was cleaned several times in order to remove some of the dirt and discolouration caused by months of laying face up and exposed to the elements (and lawnmowers). It is almost scary how well D2 ends up working, especially when it is actually sunny outside! The sunlight allows the product to react and foam up, eating away the biological material on the surface of the stone. Even after it is rinsed off, it continues to help protect the stone from discolouration for ages afterwards. (if you’ve visited our Scottish stones, you’ll know that they have stayed gleaming white since they were brought to the surface and cleaned!).

 The next step was to get the new key (or base of the gravestone) outside and dig the hole to put it into. We decided, due to the immense size and weight of this gravestone to employ the use of Gridforce tiles underneath the ground. After digging a hole the size of two tiles, we filled it part way with packed limestone screening to create a solid and level foundation capable of good drainage. Over this limestone we placed the gridforce tiles, and filled it just to the top with additional screening. The tiles create a permeable but solid foundation, rather than having a heavy cement platform underground, which will not sink and allowed water to pass through while distributing the weight of the gravestone above. It’s amazing!

The site, ready to have the new foundation installed.

Once the limestone and grid were in place, we rolled the cement key into it’s new home! Now, we talk a lot about how cement isn’t good for gravestones, and that is still veeery much true, but this cement isn’t directly attached to the gravestone, but rather simply supporting it. The gravestone itself will be held in place with lime mortar!

Once the key was in place and level, a process which too longer than we all expected it to, it was time to mix up the mortar and call a few extra hands (i.e. Thomas and Meagan, our historians/archivists) to help us lift the monument into the new key. Placed on a board to keep it from being ground into the dirt and to spread the weight a little while lifting, four of us including Joey, carefully angled the gravestone up and placed it into the lime mortar while Thomas took photos of the historic event. The Hugessen monument has been waiting years and years to be standing again, so this was a historic occasion!

Once we had the monument standing and safely in the key, it was important to make sure that it dried as level as possible, so we took a few minutes (and shovels) to ensure it was braced on both sides to keep it level and safe while the mortar set. It might not be the prettiest option, but it keeps our gravestones from falling down in the middle of the night, so we’ll take it!

After the mortar has completely set (don’t want to push against it while it’s still damp) we will go back and clean the back of the gravestone…which has not seen the light of day in quite some time, and fill in all the dirt sections around the gravestone and the curbing with ‘black’, otherwise known as topsoil, with grass seed to revitalize the area which has been chopped up substantially by our shovels and covered by piles of soil for the last 4 weeks. But at this point we are excited to say that the monument has been restored, and is standing! You can visit Hugessen and potentially his mother, Fanny Catherine, in Section R behind the crematory, on the crest of the hill.

Thank you for reading!

The Hugessen monument, reset with curbing. June 2019

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

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

 

 

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.

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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!