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.
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:
George & Caroline Laing.
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.