This presentation is part of the International Cemetery Preservation Summit, April 8-10, 2014 Niagara Falls, NY.

Conserving the Nation’s Gravesite: Treatment of the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery by Debora Rodrigues and Amy Hollis

The common practice at national cemeteries across the country is to replace marble headstones when they are damaged and can no longer be read. When the long-developing crack in Tomb of the Unknowns became obvious, Arlington National Cemetery made preparations to replace the die block in the monument, in accordance with their usual policies. In the meantime, the crack would be filled and camouflaged so that the average visitor would be unaware of the damage. Such a repair was carried out in 1990, while a separate campaign to acquire new stone proceeded.

Thus began a debate that has involved Arlington Cemetery, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, members of Congress, advisors from organizations throughout preservation and conservation organizations, and grass-roots efforts to preserve the monument rather than replace it. While the plan to replace the stone was delayed in 106 review, it became necessary to do something beyond the standard seasonal maintenance. The repair project was put out to bid, and ultimately Architectural Preservation Services, LLC (APS) was awarded the USACE contract. The work was carried out according to specifications in April, 2010, without publicity and with the express desire to have no evidence of the work that was occurring: perform the treatment at night, no covering, no scaffolding. Even with the constraints, by all accounts, the resulting repair was thought to be successful.

Soon after, Arlington National Cemetery went through an internal upheaval and public scandal. In the meantime, in November of 2010, conservators were informed that the installed formula was falling out on one side of the Tomb of the Unknowns. After a site visit, it was clear that the fill formula was failing around the entire monument. APS drafted a response with hypotheses about the failure, and evaluated various materials, temperature ranges, and moisture levels to confirm or refute those hypotheses. Based on the results and discussions with the Corps of Engineers, conservators were prepared to re-repair the Tomb in the spring of 2011. By this time, another internal shift was taking place, albeit on a more subtle level: ANC was being transferred from one USACE district to another. This final change essentially meant an entirely new project: new client, new facilitator, new project philosophy.

As the temperatures began to climb, the project was again tentatively postponed until the fall, allowing time to involve a panel of subject matter experts, representatives of the aforementioned organizations, in a series of conference calls. The results of the first of these calls was to take a two pronged approach; a technical group would discuss the issues involving a new treatment and develop a new formula, while an outreach group to develop a strategy to inform the public and the preservation community about the treatment, including using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Phase II was a very public and collaborative process.

This presentation seeks to discuss the two treatment phases of the project and how the differences in public outreach and community discussion affected the technical matters of the repair and vice versa.

Speaker Bio

Debora Rodrigues is President/Senior Conservator at Architectural Preservation Services, LLC. In 2008, Rodrigues started Architectural Preservation Services, LLC, a new conservation division of Worcester Eisenbrandt, Inc. (WEI). Prior to joining WEI, Ms. Rodrigues was the Preservation Manager/Senior Architectural Conservator for the Mission of San Juan Capistrano in Southern California. She also worked for the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Historic Cities Support Programme in Cairo, Egypt, as well as the National Park Service, Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University (in Yemen), and several privately-owned conservation firms. Ms. Rodrigues holds three degrees from the University of Pennsylvania: a Bachelor of Arts in Design of the Environment, a Master of Science in Historic Preservation, and a post-graduate Advanced Certificate in Architectural Conservation.

Amy Hollis is an Architectural Conservator with Architectural Preservation Services, LLC. Hollis joined APS in 2009, adding her conservation and restoration experience throughout the southeast and mid-Atlantic. In addition to private conservation work on monuments and cemeteries, Ms. Hollis managed the preservation of the forty Gilded Age historic buildings within the Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District, as well as the colonial Horton House site, and Spanish-American War gun batteries. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design with a Minor in Art and Architectural History from James Madison University and a Master of Fine Arts in Historic Preservation from Savannah College of Art & Design.

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