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Case study of the restoration of the Monument at Massacre Bay, A’asu, Tutuila, American Samoa

Author: Martin Johnson, Partner, Monument Conservation Collaborative
Co-author: Irving Slavid, Partner, Monument Conservation Collaborative

Abstract

This monument marks the site of a violent encounter of French explorers–the first Europeans to make landfall on these islands–with the Samoan people in December of 1787. It was listed (AS-32-004) on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, cited in the NRIS as 1972-04-13.

There are several components to the A’asu Monument as it exists today. The largest of these is the central portion of the monument, probably built in 1884. It is a sloping stucco-covered box of complex shape, resting on a multi-level platform, and supporting a large French bronze plaque with the date of 1883. (Smaller commemorative plaques are mounted on its rear face.) In 1948, an iron fence seen in an early photograph was replaced with a concrete wall, and a concrete cross was placed to replace the previous one, which was also of iron.

The presentation will include a description of the testing of materials suitable for a tropical climate, and of the difficult logistics of working in an extremely remote area, along with a detailed discussion of treatments. These treatments were intended to slow down deterioration of the monument, and to re-establish a coherent appearance to it, essentially as it was with the addition of the concrete wall and cross in 1948. Our emphasis was on the preservation of surviving fabric, including previous repairs that were still mechanically sound. Consideration of new conservation materials was based on issues of physical compatibility (with contiguous historic materials), and of product reliability.

With specific respect to the latter, there is–as there is on all conservation projects–an important question of the balance between craft and science. Highly technical products formulated for long service life often have complex application requirements that make them difficult to utilize in the field. More conventional products, while easier to apply, were not likely to do well at A’asu, where the rainfall and biological growth are extreme, and where periodic “touch-up” is not a viable option.

This dilemma was made more complicated by the need to accomplish all of the work within a very limited time schedule. Our approach was the undertaking of this work with highly qualified preservation craftsmen, using products (both commercial and custom formulations) with which they have worked comfortably and successfully on past projects. Final product selection took into account the application conditions and weathering environment of A’asu, and the question of the timing of multiple treatments.

MARTIN JOHNSON, Vice President of MCC Martin, educated as a geographer, has 6 seasons of experience with MCC, undertaking cleaning, resetting, patching and chemical consolidation. He has been an instructor at the NCPTT cemetery training workshop for
the past 3 years.

IRVING SLAVID, President of MCC Irving is recognized as an authoritative specialist in the restoration of New England’s historic sandstone, marble, and slate grave markers. Slavid helped design the first cemetery training workshop for the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (National Park Service), and has continued to serve as an instructor for NCPTT.

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4 Responses to Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit Abstracts and Video

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  2. Robert Wrigley says:

    My wife’s gr-gr-grandfather is a Union soldier buried there. When we visited this grave site last October we were quite dismayed at the condition and damage done to the stones by lawn mowers running over and chipping it. At the time we did not know the full history of the markers being altered in the 1930s. We would fully support the efforts to restore them.
    Would it be possible for a private citizen to be able to contribute to the restoration of their family’s marker or replacement? Perhaps a volunteer effort of those with relatives there could help accomplish some of this initiative to restore to their original condition.

    • Jason Church says:

      Dear Robert,
      The best person to talk with will be Betsy Dinger Elizabeth_Dinger@nps.gov who is a historian for Petersburg National Battlefield and Cemetery.

    • Bryan Cheeseboro says:

      Mr. Wrigley,
      I don’t know if you’ll get this message but I would be very interested to know which of the men buried at Battleground Cemetery is your wife’s gr-gr-grandfather. I am a historian and I have spent the last several years researcing the battle of Fort Stevens and Battleground National Cemetery. Does your wife have a photograph of her ancestor? That would be a goldmine. I have never seen any picture of any of the men killed at the battle.

      If you can be of help to me, my e-mail address is bryanac625@yahoo.com. Thank you.

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