A Crash, A Smash, and Piles of Stone.
Jablonski Building Conservation Inc.
A two-ton mass of steel hurtling through a cemetery leaves a swath of destruction in its path. In the summer of 2006, a small community at the tip of the North Fork of Long Island was left with stone strewn though out their historic cemetery after a driver lost control of his car and it flew through their cemetery before overturning. Over 20 markers were damaged and the local headstone firm said that most of the marble cemetery markers and two of the brownstone markers were not repairable. Through a stoke of luck for the cemetery, an architectural conservator was reading the local paper and was aghast at reading that the broken markers were beyond repair and therefore were to be thrown out. The Conservator immediately called someone she new at the local historical society to say that she thought most of the markers could be salvaged.
After a number of telephone calls, the conservator went to take a look at the cemetery with one of the trustees. She was convinced that the two damaged brownstone markers were repairable and that most if not all of the marble markers where salvageable. Some of the older trustees thought that they should take the insurance money and have new granite markers carved to replace the old damaged ones. The trustees who wanted to at least try to preserve the markers finally prevailed and had the conservator’s firm produce a cost estimate for the insurance company. To do this, the trustees and the conservators visited the cemetery and walked the area where the markers had been damaged. Where the car had flipped, the markers had been reduced to rubble. A partial survey had been undertaken at some point in the past, but there was not a definitive survey of the cemetery. The conservators estimated the number of markers they thought the piles of stone represented. After a long delay, the insurance company produced the money and the conservators were given the go ahead to conserve the headstones.
What the conservators found when they started the job a year later were piles of marble on the floor of a barn. The stones had been taken inside to protect them from being taken or lost. It became time to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Where to begin, was a good questions as it was not clear how many markers there were to begin with? The piles of marble were sorted by marble type appearance and thickness. As the puzzles began to be put back together, it was discovered that there were some very significant losses in some markers.
While most of the markers could be conserved in the traditional methods of pinning and patching, there were four markers that were in too many pieces with too many losses and even the large pieces of these markers could not be drilled for pinning as they shattered. Unwilling to give up, the firm worked to find a solution for saving these shattered markers and the history they represented.
A proposal was made to have concrete pads made to lay the remaining fragments out on and fill in the losses. Several trustees who had not wanted to conserve the markers were very disturbed by this proposal but they were out voted. In the end, the four seriously damaged markers were laid out on a lime mortar bed on top of the concrete pad. Two years after the completion of this work, the markers have been reassessed to determine which treatments were effective and which require repairs. This paper will discuss the controversies in the local community with treating these markers, as well as issues that arise with the treatments required for extremely damaged markers.
Mary A. Jablonski
Mary Jablonski is an Architectural Conservator and Principal of the firm of Jablonski Building Conservation with more than 19 years experience in the field of Architectural Conservation. In addition to running her firm, Mary Jablonski teaches conservation in the Historic Preservation Department of Columbia University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Ms Jablonski has worked on a wide range of projects including New York City subway stations, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, a sculptural playground in Atlanta, and of course, cemeteries.