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.

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

The cemetery is filled with endless stories. Stories about individuals that we will never meet, stories that have been passed down through the ages, ones that have been lost to time, and ones that we are able to tease out of the archives and records to tell again. Today’s story is one of those that has been pieced back together to be told again. This is the far-too-short story of Robert Cooper.

As far as the records show, Robert Cooper was born in England in 1854 to Mary Ann Cooper. At the moment, we have been unable to figure out anything about his father, as he died prior to the 1871 Ontario Census. Mary Ann arrived in London sometime between 1861 and 1871 (due to her not appearing on the London 1861 census), and we can narrow that date further to between 1861 and 1871. She first appears on the 1871 census as living in London as a widow.

It is possible she moved to Ontario to take a job as a servant after her son was born and her husband had died, leaving her with no other option than to take work overseas to support her family. Neither her nor Robert are listed on any Ontario census records prior to 1871, suggesting the arrived in the 10 years between between then and the previous census.

The W looks a bit like an ‘M’ as well, but other records of clearly married people had a different looking M, so just trust me on this one. A clear indicator that a woman wasn’t married either, along with the W in the census records, was that she wasn’t listed below her husband’s name. Mary Ann was listed alone, suggesting she may have been living with the family she worked for. Her son Robert, who was 17 in 1871 (she would have had him at age 28), is listed on a separate page of the census.

Earlier this week, Brienna was probing in a large open section of Section K and uncovered the most curious headstone that we had ever seen. As we pulled back the sod we were met with a gravestone image that was both confusing and exciting! We rushed to uncover the rest of the stone and clean it, hoping that it would reveal something about the image.

The gravestone turned out to belong to one Robert Cooper, and it read as follows:

In Memory of
ROBERT
Son of
WIDOW COOPER
who was accidentally killed
by the explosion of a
Soda water Cylinder
July 31, 1871.
Aged 17 years
____
POWELL & SON

The image on the top of the gravestone was a soda water cylinder, which would have held carbon dioxide or ‘carbonic acid’ which was forced into water to make it fizzy. This process was discovered by Joseph Priestley in the late 18th century, naming him the ‘father of the soft drink’, and became very popular! However, highly pressurized tanks are subject to explosion if the conditions aren’t right, or the tank is damaged in some way.

Robert was listed in the year of his death as having worked as a servant, but it does not say where or to whom he was in service. Records from the Ivey Family London Room at the London Public Library state that at Bilton’s Soda Water & Pop Works on Dundas Street, London, a ‘soda fountain’ exploded, killing Robert Cooper instantly. A newspaper article from the London Free Press, August 1st, 1871, states that he was an employee of the soda works.

Bilton’s was one of many soda works in London in the 1800s, and was near the intersection of Dundas and Wellington Streets. We haven’t been able to find out much more about the company, but are definitely looking to fill in the gaps. It may have looked similar to the water works of J. Tune & Son, which was established in 1882 on York Street. As you can see in the background of this image, there are many large tanks which would have been used to carbonate the water in the bottles. Robert was working near a similar tank, as part of his job was to ‘fill and wash the vessels’ during the soda water making process (London Free Press 1871).

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

“It was a jar-shaped utensil, and stood upon its bottom. While it was in this position Cooper and another young man named Welch approached it and were about to lift it by the handles. Cooper has no sooner bent over it than the fountain exploded with a terrible force, rising like a rocket and striking against the ceiling with a ford which broke through the ….. and shook the whole building. In its upward flight, horrible to relate, it struck young Cooper in the chest and under the chin, and bore him bodily up with it. His head struck against the ceiling about three feet distant; and also broke the plaster. He fell lifeless. His companion Welch was forced by the outflying gas across the floor amongst a lot of the bottom, and narrowly escaped the same fate. Dr. Fluck was at once sent for, and appeared five minutes after the accident but too late to be of service. The body was carefully removed to Mr. Bilton’s dining room, overhead, and coroner Moore notified. In the afternoon at four o’clock, an inquest was held.
-London Free Press, Aug 1, 1871.

The tank they were filling belonged to a J.E. Baker on Richmond Street, which indicates that stores could bring their tanks/fountains over to the Soda Works to have them refilled, and that the tank in question had been repaired before for leaks. In short, it could easily have been faulty. The deposition of witnesses and owners concluded that Robert’s death was an accident due to faulty repairs of the tank, and that when tanks are leaky after that point they are to be condemned in order to prevent further tragedy (London Free Press 1871).

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

Our burial and death records here at Woodland list Robert’s burial as having taken place at St. Paul’s on August 1st, 1871, and that his body was transported there from the ‘City Hospital’. This indicates that he was brought to the hospital after the accident. Later, his burial and gravestone were brought to Woodland Cemetery post-1879.

Robert’s cleaned and set gravestone, Section K

It is curious that the gravestone shows a carving of the cylinder that killed him! It is not a common motif, to show on a gravestone what ultimately ended one’s life…unless that something was a boat. Additionally, his mother’s name is only listed as ‘Widow Cooper’ on the stone, an interesting choice to make as his only family.

Robert’s death was a tragic accident, but through the resulting inquest into what happened, safety precautions were brought into place to protect future soda men in their places of work. We packed the space with limestone screening to allow drainage without letting the gravestone sink as quickly, and made a buffer of screening around the edges to keep the grass back as long as possible Robert’s stone can be visited in Section K. We remember Robert through his curious gravestone, which gave us a glimpse into his life in 1870s London.

Thank you for following our progress so far this summer! Keep an eye out for more information on our walking tour, which will be held on July 6th, 2019

Curious about the newspaper article?

If you are interested in the rest of this article, check out the London Reading Room or download the sections below:

Want to see the stone for yourself?

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

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

Fixing Stones: Our First Solo Expedition

On Thursday, May 30th, Robyn and I gave a marker conservation demonstration to a class of thanatology students from King’s University College. This was their last stop on their tour given by the cemetery’s public historian and archivist team! We wanted to give them a glimpse into how exciting our job is, so we raised a fallen marker near the Hugessen monument. This marker was broken across the middle into two pieces. As they were leaving, we probed near the base of the marker to find a key- but we found something much cooler!

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The base of the gravestone was completely underground

Just below the broken marker, we found a 1.5’ piece of marble that continued straight into the ground! This means that the marker never had a key, and was made long enough to stand freely.

Seeming as we had just learned to fix monuments the day prior, we decided to tackle this stone as our first solo project. We began by digging out the bottom of the stone, while making sure our hole didn’t get too wide. (Don’t want to disturb anything when you’re digging that deep!) Next, we pulled the stone out of the ground, and poured limestone screening in to prevent the marker from sinking in the future. Once this was to our desired height and levelled, we put the marble slab back in the hole, and pressed limestone screening around the sides to keep it from falling forwards or backgrounds. Finally, we covered this with a few inches of topsoil to allow the grass to grow flesh to the stone.

Now that the stone was raised and sturdy, we were ready to put it back together! To start, we had to clean the stones. When they dried, we marked 3 dots along the top with lipstick (in the shade cherry frost!), and pressed the two stones together where they are supposed to meet. This transferred the lipstick to the other stone, to indicate exactly where we’re supposed to drill. We used lipstick because it was in the drill kit, and was standard practice here. However, we soon learned (not really to our surprise…) that lipstick is not good for the stone! It seeps into the stone, and changes its colour to pink! We’ve decided that for all future projects, we will dispose of the lipsticks and use calibers and pencils.

Next, we cut wooden dowels to size and started drilling a couple inches into each mark. You’d think this would be the easiest step, however our drill died after every couple of holes! So, this project involved a lot of driving up to the shed to exchange drill batteries. Once we ~finally~ drilled three holes in each slab of rock, for six in total, we filled the holes with a sealant and pushed the dowels in. The upper piece of rock was small, so it was easy for Robyn to lift it, while I crouched next to it to guide it on top of the dowels. Then, we sandwiched the setting stones between pieces of wood, and pressed them together with a bar clamp.

We let this sit for the night before taking them off and filling the crack between the two pieces with lime mortar. Lime mortar is packaged as a powder, which we add water to until it forms as a paste. This gets smoothed into the crack to seal the stones together. Attentiveness to detail is super important at this stage, because this dries as a stark white colour, so we don’t want it smeared across the marker where it doesn’t need to be. This needs to set for about a day before we can continue working on the marker. Lime mortar can be used to reconstruct parts of the stone, including inscriptions, but only if the person applying it is sure they’re only reconstructing, and not adding new elements. If unsure, that part of the stone should be left alone.

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The finished product! 

Now, because the stone was broken into three pieces, we repeated this process the next day! We finished by reconstructing the top corner of the stone, because we could compare the corners and be 100% sure that we were not adding historical inaccuracies. Once everything is set, dry, and sturdy, we can clean the stone. As much as we wanted to clean while waiting, it was important we kept the mortar moist…but not too moist, to prevent it from running down the stone. So, we used this time to explore nearby stones! Thankfully (depending on how you look at it…), there is always work for us to do! We found and reset two small markers within two meters from the stone during this process.

We look forward to probing and resetting more sunken graves in this small area- it already looks completely different from when we started!

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.

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

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

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Pin flags are used to mark potential buried markers

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

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

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

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

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

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