Secrets of the Gravestones!

During our time at Woodland, we have come across many odd little happenings that we would not have noticed in the cemetery without working here. For example, we met a small squirrel that crawled up our (clothed) legs and opted for a ride on our backpacks. We also watched a deer give birth, which was the coolest, but perhaps not the best lunchtime entertainment. And, we recently realized the purple markings on our white marble monuments is actually mulberry bird poop. We’ve had daily, if not hourly, instances where we’ve exclaimed something along the lines of “what! that’s so cool!” And, we’ve even had a few moments where we’ve flipped over a monument to be reset, only to uncover something even cooler on the back.

Marion Phillips’s gravestone, 1851.

We found our first monument surprise while preparing the stones for Meagan and Thomas’ tour, “A Newcomer’s Guide to Resting in Woodland.” This mainly involved cleaning the monuments they planned to talk about, but we also wanted to reset a monument that had fallen directly in front of a tour stop, Thomas Phillips, M.D. Upon edging and pulling the grass back from the stone, we realized it was the daughter of Phillips, Marion Phillips, who died in 1851. The entire monument was there but broken into three pieces, so we initially thought we would raise it again. That was until we realized this was the coolest stone we’ve ever seen!

While we were scrubbing away at the stone, Robyn started freaking out in excitement- the stone had carved faces in the bottom! She had initially thought the unfamiliar patterns were from root markings, but soon recognized them as ‘carver doodles.’ There are two full faces, complete with eyes and lips, and an extra set of lips to the left of them carved into the bottom of the stone. This monument was a long slab of marble without a key, which meant at least a foot of it was to be buried underground to anchor it. Apparently, when a carver knew that a portion of the stone was to be buried and hidden from sight, they would practice lettering, or in our case just doodle, on that portion of the stone.

Because this was unprecedented in any of the stones we found, it was quickly decided that the historical significance of these doodles outweighed our original desire to erect this stone. Instead, we filled the hole where it laid with limestone screening, and placed in back on top. This way, everyone can enjoy the carver’s doodles. If you want to find them, they are along the road in the back of Section S, to the west of the large ornamental sandstone ring cross) monument. They are most evident when you angle a flashlight across or pour water on them.

Robyn and I found our next monument with a secret in section EC, one of Woodland’s old children’s sections, while we were randomly edging up tablets while waiting to get our drill. I noticed a tablet to ‘Baby Sloman’ was stained green and on its way to becoming sunken, so I decided to pull it up to pack limestone screening underneath and dig out a frame for it. But much to our delight, there were inscriptions on the back!

The monument had crystal clear iconography of a lamb underneath a willow, and it read, ‘IN memory of SARAH Daughter of,’ before it broke off in a perfectly straight line. We think that the carver discarded Sarah’s stone, for unknown reasons, and recycled the slab of marble to use the front! I get the logic, why not reuse material if it’s going to sit as a tablet in the ground, anyways? This sitting in the dirt is actually why the iconography was persevered so well. Even though Sloman’s stone was erected in 1912, the back was protected by dirt and obviously not exposed to the regular substances that stain marble stones in the air.

Unfortunately, since the nature of a tablet only allows one side to be showing at once, we had to rebury the back of the monument. The good news however is that we were able to document this, so that all of you lovely people can see it on the Internet, instead!

Strange zig-zags on Maurice Baker’s stone, 1853.

On one of our final gravestones, we found another little carver doodle in the form of some squiggles. They are fairly uniform, but do not appear on both sides of the stone so are likely from a tool, rather than being lifted by machinery, etc. This could have been carved on the stone before it was a gravestone, or maybe was the result of the carver testing their tools? This particular stone was carved by one Mr. Thomas Francis, a gravestone carver here in London. If only he was still around to ask about this!

Our final gravestone surprise was occurred while we worked on the many fallen monuments lining the south end of Section K. We decided to work in this area mainly because it was shaded by a tree on either side, so we had coverage throughout the entire day, but also because this was along the tour route, and we had decided to give our demonstration here.

Contemporary hidden writing!

While we were primarily working on older stones, I also realized that there was a sunken granite tablet, which turned out to be from 1983. We have no idea how it sunk a few inches underground in such a short time frame! I needed the assistance of Thomas to help me pull the tablet out of its hole, because granite is a heavy material, and the tablet was quite large in a cement frame. We flipped it onto the grass, and realized there was black writing on the back! This indicated the size of the stone, and that the maker of the monument was Ideal Monuments. This seems like a rather mundane discovery, but this was the only time we had ever come across this! Usually tablets are straight and flat across the back, with no indication of where they came from. Standing monuments, on the contrary, sometimes list the carver on the front of the bottom on Victorian Era monuments, and on the back of newer monuments.

The results of a rusted pin…

There are a few secrets to the ‘typical’ stones we’ve worked on, too. First, many of the multilayered marble stones have metal rods that connect the pieces together. However, many of these rods have eroded, and only gravity holds the stones up. When we drilled wooden pins into stones, we make our own holes, as the old ones are too wide for us and have metal bits left them. And finally, most of the marble stones we’ve pulled out of the ground have peculiar dirt patterns covering the side facing down. This is because of all the ant tunnels! We’ve unfortunately learned that ants like to nest, and make egg pools right underneath stones. As a result of this, we’re usually cautious to raise stones, quickly looking to see if any ants are too close for comfort!

Isn’t it amazing, what secrets can lie just below the surface? Gravestone hold more than just information about the people they memorialize, they carry the personalities and work of their carvers, family ties and faiths, personal interests, history, and sometimes clues about the environment in which they stand. We feel extremely lucky to be the first people to see some of these ‘cemetery secrets’ in decades, and we hope you have enjoyed learning about them with us!

Crane* Day! (*Actually a Backhoe)

All of the projects Robyn and I have worked on up until this point have been challenging but we’ve only recently started using machinery in our work. This week, we’ve raised two monuments using a backhoe, which we’ve gleefully dubbed our ‘crane.’ This is because the monuments were too large for us to lift safely (or at all, for that matter).

This is why you don’t lean on monuments!

The first stone we raised with the backhoe was a marble ring cross monument to three women: Jane Gildersleeves, Olive Eastty, and Jane Booker. Their death dates ranged from 1907 to 1919. Unlike most of the stones we’ve worked on this summer, this stone was standing when we found it. However, we realized it was incredibly unstable, to the point of being dangerous, while we were visiting the monument to Paul Peel and his family nearby. I touched the 1.45m monument, and it wobbled like it was about to fall over!

In no time, Robyn and I had laid wooden planks against the base of the monument, and leaned the cross onto them. We learned that the cross had a metal rod at one point, but this had rusted and broken long ago. This is why we now work with wooden monuments, as the rust can harm the stone! We also learned that the cross was sitting on lead spaces, and had globs of old, hard sealant. So, we put on our masks and safety glasses and started chiseling away! Both the base and cross needed chiseling, and we managed to flatten the remaining bits of the metal rod, too.

Cleaning, drilling, and chiseling the monument!

Since it’s dangerous to have too many people chiseling in one area (you know, all the flying stones and whatnot), I started to clean the cross while Robyn and Sharon chiseled the base. I even had enough time to edge out and raise a nearby sunken tablet! Once the chiseling was complete, we were able to drill the base and cross. We do this by drilling the holes on the base first, and measuring where to drill the holes on top with calibers. After this, we had to wait for Joey, who has helped us on many previous projects, and Bruce, the backhoe operator to help us raise the cross.

A few days later, Joey notified us they were ready to help us finish our project! We met them at the monument, and cleared the cobwebs out of our hardhats, ready to learn how to guide the cross back into it’s base. First, Joey strategically wrapped a loop shaped strap around the cross, so that it could easily be lifted by the hook of the backhoe. Bruce gave us a fright here, as when we turned around to see how he was doing, he was wearing a monster mask! Haha. We’ve since learned he must have a costume store’s worth of supplies hidden in the cab of his backhoe.

When Bruce raised the arm of the backhoe, he was able to dangle the cross directly on top of the base, while we guided it into place. Here, we fixed it in place by matching our drilled holes on the bottom of the monument to the dowels in the holes in the base. The holes were filled with a cohesive substance to keep the cross mounted to the base.

And with that, it was standing again! We supported it by propping wood planks on either side of the cross, and came back the next day to fill the rest of the crack at the base of the monument with lime mortar.

A few days after setting the ring cross monument, we decided to raise another cross using the same method! A tall granite cross had broken into two and fallen from its base in Section K, and we wanted to raise it. However, granite is practically infinitely harder to drill compared to marble!! We naively decided to try drilling it, but gave up shortly when we realized we were going nowhere.

Instead of pinning this cross, we glued it together with our adhesive. Because of the weight of the monument, Joey helped us put the cross back together on the ground. We tightened ratchet straps around it to support it as it dried. A few days later, Bruce helped us raise the granite cross with the backhoe on one of his “sandwich breaks.” There was no way we could have lifted this without a machine!

Once the monument was upright in its proper position, we filled it’s base with adhesive. This position was difficult to determine, because the base was circular and the cross had no text to indicate the front. But we eventually figured it out with some trial and error!

This monument is ridiculously tall and heavy, and we felt the need to add some extra protective measures to ensure it could dry without falling and harming any people or wildlife. Joey made some interesting yet sturdy supports to hold it in place (I can’t describe them… just reference the images and see for yourself), and we wound caution tape around the area.

After a few days had passed, Joey took the supports down, and shook the monument to ensure it was secure and safe. If it wiggled in its base at all, we would have taken it down and waited for someone with a drill thats capable of drilling granite to pin it up. Thankfully, the monument is sturdy in place, and we were able to leave it standing for everyone to enjoy!

The final product.

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.

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.

Testing Alternative Setting Methods: Derusha Setting Compound

This week we’ve raised two stones using a method we’ve never tried – we applied a latex sealant from Derusha Supply to the base to hold them upright.

After cleaning up our last site in Section R, where we had raised three stones and uncovered many tablets, Robyn and I decided to venture off into other sections. When we decided to set up camp to fix these stones, we thought we were exploring a whole new section of the cemetery! But, we soon laughed when we realized we had just found more work in Section R… only slightly over from where we were!

The stone we started with here was short, and the different components of it had separated from each other. This included the marker, base, and foundation. Luckily for us, these components were all intact with no scratches, cracks, or missing chunks. To begin piecing these pieces back together, we dug them out and moved them from the site, so that we could level the hole and raise the monument. Once we dug out the hole, we dumped in a few buckets of limestone screening, to prevent the monument from sinking in the future. This is probably my favourite part of the process, because you get to jump in the hole to compact it!

When we were happy with the new, shallower depth of our hole, we carried the foundation back in, and laid a roll of Derusha sealant on it to match the circumference of the base that we’d be placing on top. We placed dimes in the four corners to act as spacers, and then lifted the base back in place. Gravity may have sufficed in keeping this upright without the Derusha, but we wanted to add these extra measures just to be sure. You never know what could knock a monument – we’ve even heard of deer jumping into stones!

Once the base was in place and we had scraped away the excess sealant that seeped out the edges, we were nearly ready to raise the monument. We noticed that the monument used to have a metal rod attaching the monument to the base, however it was no longer attached. So, we drilled holes in both ends and used wooden dowels as pins to keep it upright.

Usually this is when we are able to pat ourselves on the back and let the monument sit to dry before adding mortar… but not this time! Somehow the monument’s back had chipped just along the base, which made it almost curved and very difficult to stand straight. Luckily for us, we always have an excess of tools and materials in our cart, and we realized we could cut up the leftover wooden dowel and jam it underneath! This kept the monument perfectly straight while the sealants set, and we shoved as much mortar as we could fit the next day to further support it.

The second monument we erected with Derusha

We decided to stay in this section for a couple extra days after finishing this monument, because there were a few other easy fixes, and this area is visible from a well traveled cemetery road. We cleaned a few monuments with D2 and water, edged around a tablet, probed for potential markers, and fixed two other monuments. We used Derusha for one of these monuments, because the crevice in the base for the marker to sit in was quite shallow. This monument involved the same processes as the previous one, such as levelling the ground with limestone screening. However, this stone did not require pins, because it’s stable and not top-heavy.

Our final fix in this section involved attaching a small marble urn back to the top of a monument. We found the urn resting against the base of the monument, and feared it might sink or get lost if we left it. Since the monument was under a tree with thick foliage, it was covered in lichen and moss. There were five pieces made from marble (!!!) and two from sandstone. We sprayed the whole monument in D2 to kill any plant matter and roots leaching into the stone and breaking it, but we only scrubbed the marble, because sandstone cannot really be cleaned. After the top had dried, we drilled one pin into it, and reattached it with a wooden dowel.

Now it’s time to pack up and find a new section… perhaps something outside of Section R this time?

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

Resurrecting gravestones with intact keys

Hello readers, and welcome back to another monument conservation blog post! Our historian counterparts are off at the archives today (I’m sure we can expect some really cool updates from them) so we are hiding from the rain and writing today. Not a bad way to start out a Wednesday if you ask me!

Today we wanted to talk about a project we worked on yesterday: resetting gravestones with intact keys. The ‘key’ of a gravestone is a fancy way to describe a base to support an upright monument (think stereotypical gravestone shape) that has a slot in the middle, which the grave is then placed inside. It holds up the stone without needing a very long stone buried in the ground, which is the way that older historic gravestones were constructed (think 17th – 18th centuries). If we find a fallen gravestone and are able to locate the key, it is a very lucky day for us!

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Mary’s gravestone in three pieces, preparing to be cleaned

This project involved two stones that we reset yesterday, both of which are located in section R of the cemetery, directly north of the crematory, and had fallen from their keys years earlier. The first marker was a cross on a decorative base, carved to resemble a pile of stones with a plaque on the south side and a scroll on the north, dedicated to Mary Mc C. Wood, who died on November 27, 1883 at the age of 18. The second stone, knocked over by a fallen tree years ago, featured Gothic points and tracery at the top, a hand pointing skyward, and two placed for names. It was carved for William Winslow who died September 4, 1877 and his wife Mary Ann Winslow, who died one year and one day earlier, on September 3, 1876. Both stones were made from marble, a very soft material.

Once we identified that the stones we wanted to work on resetting had intact keys, it was time to get to work!

Step 1: Level the gravestone key. Often the reason that the gravestone has fallen is because the ground has slumped and/or the gravestone itself has sunken unevenly, causing the upper portion of the marker to tilt and eventually fall. In order to level the key, we dug around the key to loosen it from the surrounding sediment, before raising it up in order to place limestone gravel below. The gravel will help level the marker, as well as provide drainage below and keep the stone from sinking back into the ground as quickly. It provides a hard base, and an alternative to pouring concrete into the ground!

Step 2: Clear the debris from the key & gravestone base. This is an important step, although it sounds mundane. By cleaning out things like moss, lichen, dirt, and pine needles, we can ensure a better and title seal between the gravestone, the key, and the mortar we use to attach the two together. If the mortar sticks to moss instead of stone, it isn’t going to hold the marker up for long.

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Brienna chiseling the base of the Winslow gravestone

Step 3: Prepare the base of the gravestone. Sometimes the bottom of the gravestone isn’t level, and it would take a lot of mortar to repair that issue, so we have to take chisels and hammers and carefully remove some of the uneven pieces of stone, so the marker will sit correctly in the key. We only do this if there is no inscriptions on the face of the stone that would be impacted by the process, however. We don’t want to chip away any last words, or the name of the gravestone carvers! Marble, despite being such a popular material for gravestones is actually quite soft, especially when it has been outside exposed to weathering for over 100 years, and it didn’t take much to level off the base of the Winslow stone. Don’t worry, we took our health and safety precautions, wearing gloves and safety glasses the entire time.

Step 4: Mix & place the limestone mortar. Before we can put the gravestone back into its newly leveled key, we need to prepare the lime mortar. Limestone, chalk, coral, sea shells, etc., are mainly composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). When heated the carbon dioxide (CO2) is burned away, resulting is calcium oxide (CaO).

  • CaCO3 + heat = CaO + CO2

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Applying lime mortar to the key of the cross. 

“The oldest uses of lime exploit its ability to react with carbon dioxide to regenerate calcium carbonate. When lime is mixed with sand and water, the result is mortar” (Lime: Calcium Oxide). Lime mortar is made from lime (limestone) and aggregate (typically sand) which is mixed with water to cause a chemical reaction forming calcium hydroxide, a process known as slaking the lime.

  • CaO + H2O = Ca(OH)2

The mortar can then be used to secure bricks, stones, and yes, even gravestones for years. It is vital to the survival of historic construction, as lime mortar draws moisture into itself and out of the material it is attached to. Eventually (>50 years) the mortar will start to crumble, and need to be re-pointed between the cracks. This might seem like a lot of work, but in the long term it will allow the stones or bricks to last longer (think 1000+ years, like the castles in Europe!). It has been common in the past for cement to be used during gravestone repairs, but this can be detrimental to the stones and by no means do we recommend this. Cement traps moisture inside the stone and can cause faster weathering as a result. You can see this phenomenon on many historic buildings as well.

Step 5: Carefully slot the gravestone back into the key. This process takes several people, and often the aid of a saw-horse or other supporting structures if the stone is large enough. When we get to this stage, the mortar has already been placed inside the key, ready for the gravestone! Several people tilt the gravestone up while someone guides it into the slot. Once the gravestone has been checked so we know it’s level, we grab a few masonry tools and point mortar into the spaces at the base, smoothing it out to ensure a clean finish. If the stone is very large, we might have to support it overnight to make sure it doesn’t slip out of place during the curing process.

There you have it! These are the first two gravestones that we have reset into their original keys during the 2019 season, and we could not be more pleased with the results. Once the mortar is set, we will be able to clean the stones properly and restore their colour a little closer to the original bright white that they once were. For now, however, we will admire our handiwork, as we continue working in Section R!

If you have any questions or comments about this project or any of the work we are doing this summer at Woodland, please put a comment below or send us an email! Thanks so much for your continued support.

(Photos in this post were taken by Robyn, Brienna, and Joey, 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!

 

Final Thoughts for the Summer

Hi there!

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.

Thank you for keeping up with our work!

For the last time,

Alyssa

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… and a little bit more

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.

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Queen Victoria in mourning clothes

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.

MS 421_6_1_5 Photograph of Leeds General Cemetery 1962
Leeds General Cemetery in disrepair. Leeds, England.

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Woodhouse Cemetery in St George’s Field at the University of Leeds.

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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.

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A war cemetery at Vimy Ridge in France.

A little bit on 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).19911695_10209276870215330_1580958185_o

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.

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.

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Ancient burial mounds in Bahrain, photographed in 1956. From http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/31/world/meast/in-bahrain-development-chips-away/index.html

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!

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A streetcar on the Springbank Line c.1896. Woodland Cemetery is located on the right and the Thames River is on the left. Photo is from the London Room at London Public Library.

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.