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!

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.

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

 

 

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.

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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!

 

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.

bahrain burial
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.

Victoria Grace Blackburn: London’s (Original!) Literary Powerhouse

For my historical blog this week, I want to talk about a woman whose gravestone I often wander by: Victoria Grace Blackburn (pen name: FanFan). Though her biography hints at a fascinating life, I get the feeling that she was someone who you would have had to meet in person in order to truly feel the force of her personality.

blackburn

As you may be able to tell from the name, Victoria was part of the Blackburn clan who founded the London Free Press. She was born on April 17, 1864 as the fifth daughter of Josiah Blackburn and Emma Jane Delamere, in Quebec. As a young woman, she studied at Hellmuth Ladies’ College in London, where she likely learned her passion for letters. After she graduated, she worked as a teacher in the United States, following her desire to remain in an intellectual environment (in one of the only stations an intellectual woman could occupy, at the time).

Fortunately for Miss Blackburn, her family’s newspaper provided the perfect opportunity to launch her career in another direction. In 1894, she began occasionally writing for the London Free Press while she embarked on studies of journalism, theatre, and literary criticism in New York and Europe. Being unmarried, she travelled the world with her sisters.

By 1900, Victoria had become the full time literary and drama critic for the Free Press. Having natural talent as well as fortunate station, she quickly became one of Canada’s leading and well-known critics, her fame spreading beyond London’s city limits.

She was an important player in London’s cultural scene, but one gets the sense that the town wasn’t always the right fit for her. Being well travelled, she often commented on London’s lack of growth, publishing (loving) criticisms such as “[London is a city that] has not believed sufficiently in herself” in the Free Press. Regardless of some detractors she gained in this manner, she became the managing editor of the London Free Press in 1918, and remained in that position until her death in 1928.

Though some believed that her success was due only to her family connections, she had many professional admirers, and gained praise (like that below, published The Editor) not only for her reporting work but for her literary endeavours.

“A writer with a large brain and a big, warm heart: a twentieth century thinker, with the individuality of original thought and expression: a poet just beginning to realize her gift, and its underlying responsibility: one of the best equipped of our literary and dramatic critics, and with the faculty of logical and comprehensive interpretation–altogether, a distinct force in the intellectual life of the Dominion, of whom much may be expected.” –The Editor.

In addition to writing for the newspaper, Victoria also authored several poems, a novel, and two plays. Her expansive style ranged from satire to tragedy, and she explored themes such as ill-fated love, sacrifice, war, and loss. While none of her work ever reached the level of fame that would have caused it to be well-known today, many of her original hand-written manuscripts are still housed at the Archives at Western University. (Fun fact: after her death, her sister Susan M. Blackburn established a fund, bequeathed to Western University, to purchase Canadian literature in both English and French in memory of her sister Victoria)!

Blackburn’s most critically acclaimed work was The Man Child (published in 1930, 2 years after her death). A novel about the First World War, it is much more serious than many of her other works. The novel follows Jack Winchester, a Canadian boy who leaves London for the trenches of France during WWI. Though its tone is sometimes celebratory of the war (a common attitude of the time), it chooses to celebrate the soldiers who gave their lives over any grand nationalist cause. Many Londoners enjoyed the book because it was a thinly veiled portrait of our city (and the nearby hamlet of Byron), acknowledging the war as a personal and painful experience rather than just a far-away event.

In addition to being a literary powerhouse, she was also active in her community. She founded the Women’s Canadian Club and was the president of the London Women’s Press Club; she was a participant in London’s own little theatre scene as well. She lived at 652 Talbot street with three of her sisters, where a historical plaque still stands to mark her significance.

In 1928, at the age of 61, Victoria suffered a lengthy illness: uterine cancer. She spent the last few weeks of her life in St. Joseph’s Hospital, likely surrounded by her many friends and remaining family members. She died on March 4, 1928, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery (in the Blackburn plot in Section S) shortly thereafter.

Death Certificate.png

More fortunate than many other Confederation Era Canadian writers, much of her work has survived to the present day. Below is one of her poems, published during WWI, which may give us a feeling for her literary style as well as her compassion:

 

Epic of the Yser
Dead with his face to the foe!’
From Hastings to Yser
Our men have died so.
The lad is a hero–
Great Canada’s pride:
We sent him with glory,
For glory he died–
So ring out the church-bells! Float the flag high!

Then I heard at my elbow a fierce mother-cry.

On the desolate plain
Where the dark Yser flows
They’ll bury him, maybe,
Our Child of the Snows:
The message we sent them
Through fire and through flood
He signed it and sealed it
To-day with his blood–
United we stand! Our Empire is One!

But this woman beside me? . . . The boy was her son.

 

Blackburn1.jpg

 

Reflections at the End of the Week

Good evening everybody!

I’d like to start today’s blog post with an apology for not posting at all in this week. It has been a week of transition as we delve into the second half of our year here at Woodland, which involves moving away from the Scottish Cemetery and beginning to find, recover, and study various other tombstones across Woodland Cemetery. Although we haven’t quite finished our work at the Scottish Cemetery, as the stones we have selected to be stood up haven’t been put in place yet, we need to wait for their bases to be completed. We build these bases at Woodland, but their creation is a highly time consuming process. As a result, we’ve moved on to explore other older sections of the cemetery for now.

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Woodland Cemetery was opened in 1879, and some of the oldest records and maps available are handwritten. Not something a Google search can find for you.

There are a few differences between working at the Scottish Cemetery, which was populated by 130 gravestones, and individual Confederation era stones. The most significant difference is that the Scottish Cemetery site was not the final resting place for the gravestones. The bodies are in a mass grave somewhere else in the cemetery, while the stones were left in the corner of Woodland, seemingly as an afterthought by people simply looking to get them out of the way. In contrast to this, the separate stones we find around the cemetery, while some may have been transferred from St Paul’s cemetery, were put in places that were intended to be their final resting place. As a result, we often find the stones underground either still attached or very close to their bases. This means that after restoration we can immediately repair them if needed and stand them back up. Since the owners of the gravestones are interned there as well, the stone must be stood up in its original spot.

This week, we’ve been able find and stand up several stones. Firstly, we found three small sized gravestones, buried a foot beneath the earth, still settled in their bases. We spent half the afternoon digging, and fighting against the roots that had intertwined themselves around the gravestones and prevented us from removing them easily. When we returned them to the surface, we discovered they were in good condition, with only one of the three broken out of its base. A quick check in the cemetery records indicated that we had found the graves of three sisters, Minnie, Mary, and Clara, who died within several weeks of each other in 1891, possible victims of a contagious disease that could devastate families with young children at the time. Today, the sister’s graves have been restored and returned to the exact spot we found them it.

Sister Graves
The gravestones had sunken into the ground by a foot, there was no indication on the surface that something once stood in place here.

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The white material below the graves is limestone screening, which will prevent them from beginning to sink into the ground again in the near future.

Sister graves 2
Cleaned, repaired, and reunited.

We also found a larger stone, belonging to Adeline Irene, daughter of the Ulbrich family, who died in 1892 aged 5. The stone was lying horizontally below the ground, with its base several feet deeper. It was broken at the very bottom of the base, so using an adhesive would not be sufficient to hold it down given the amount of weight it needs to support. This means that we need to pin the stone.

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Sometimes, even the faintest discoloration in the grass can indicate an object buried beneath it. Other common visual indicators can include different densities or variations of grass and shrubbery growing in a specific spot.

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Peeling back the soil reveals a damaged and entirely illegible stone, stained from decades underground.

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Immediately below the gravestone we also found its original base, a blessing for us as we can restore it without having to create new foundations for it.

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An initial scrubbing has the stone looking neater.

Pinning is a process used to stand up graves that need an extra amount of support. It involves drilling holes into the center of the stone and inserting fiberglass or wooden pins to stop it from being tipped over in situations where merely an adhesive would fail. To to this, we find a stone that ideally has been found alongside its original base, and we bore three holes alongside its length. We offset the central hole to spread out the weight distribution, and we drill three identically placed holes into the section of the stone that has broken off. We then fill the holes with adhesive and insert the pins, often four inches long, with two inches inserted into each part of the stone. We allow the adhesive to dry and then ensure the stone is sitting snugly in place. After this, we use a mortar to fill any gaps between the stone to secure it further and rebuild any designs or features of the stone that have been lost to time. After this process, if done correctly, the stone is able to withstand the elements, and remain standing both as a monument to the deceased and as a piece of history for the foreseeable future. With this stone, I’m happy to report that it is sitting quite securely in place!

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We drill three holes into the base of the stone, and drill an identical pattern into the upright section.

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In this instance, we used fiberglass pins as the internal support. In the background you can the the upright section of the gravestone upside down, as we drill an identical pattern into it’s base.

Ulbrich stone
The stone is set onto it’s original base with it’s new internal supports. It has been cleaned thoroughly and looks closer to what it would have looked like when it was carved in 1892. Visible on top is a sleeping lamb, symbolizing purity, a common indicator of a child’s grave in the Victorian era. The final step for this stone is to mortar the bottom section where bits of stone have crumbled away. This process we’ll begin on Monday and post an update when it is finished.

 

Anyways, that’s all I have for this week! A slightly longer post but it’s covered quite a bit. I hope it was enjoyable!

Have a good weekend everyone!

John Robert Peel, the stone carver

Hi everyone,

Today I thought it would be interesting to share one of the stories that was featured on our walking tour! On our tour, we talked a bit about stone carvers and John Robert Peel was one of them.

JR Peel

John was born on September 26, 1830 in England. He got married to Amelia Margaret Hall, who is buried at Woodland Cemetery with her husband, in 1849. There are no records of his occupation in England, but we know that when John and Amelia moved to London, Canada (then Canada West) in 1852, John instantly became an artistic figurehead in London. John earned his living as a drawing instructor and also as a marble cutter, making headstones and monuments. John owned his own firm for his marble cutting business named London Marble Works. John was known for his remarkable sculpting skills, especially his lamb sculptures. These lamb sculptures are often found on children’s grave because it symbolizes purity and innocence. John was also involved in several art initiatives in London. Most notably, he was a co-founder of the Western School of Arts and Design and he also organized the first Art Loan exhibition in London.

Another fun fact about John Robert Peel: He was the father of Paul Peel, a world renowned artist from London. In 1890, he won a bronze medal at Paris Salon for his painting After the Bath, making him one of the first Canadian artists to receive international recognition during his lifetime.

Paul Peel
After the Bath
1890
oil on canvas
147.3 x 110.5 cm

It is said that Paul Peel was artistically inclined from a young age thanks to his father’s artistic abilities. After all, Paul was trained by his father until the age of 14. On the monument of John and Amelia, Paul Peel’s name is also engraved on it, but Paul Peel is not buried here. He died in Paris from lung infection and he is buried in Paris. We are not entirely certain why Paul’s name is engraved here. It can’t be that they wanted their children’s name on their monument since they had several children together but only Paul’s name is on. We think it maybe because John and Amelia

  1. wanted to remember their son, who passed away at relatively young age of 31
  2. were very proud of their son’s achievement and wanted others to remember him as well

Or it could possibly be both!

Peel House
Peel House located in Fanshawe Pioneer Village; the house was originally located at 230 Richmond Street, south of Horton Street.

John died in 1904 from bowel troubles at the age of 74. At the Fanshawe Pioneer Village here in London, the house John and Margaret lived is preserved as a Paul Peel’s childhood home!