The first impulse in cemetery preservation efforts is usually to protect or treat the grave markers. After all, they are the obvious historic resource. But the condition of the stones is often indicative of a neglected landscape that is contributing to the deterioration of those historic resources. An untended landscape with overgrown vegetation and volunteer growth can create excessive shade and detrimental microclimates, fostering biological growth and choking out grasses or ornamental plantings. Inappropriately located paths, or paths that have inadequate widths can force pedestrians onto turf near graves, causing compaction and erosion. Formerly gravel paths and roads, now largely paved, create new drainage patterns with higher velocity run off into undersized storm water systems. Left unpruned, trees can grow into hazards with the potential to cause catastrophic damage to headstones and buildings during storm events. So, while the preservation of markers should be a high priority for many cemetery managers, deteriorating stones should always be considered a symptom, not a singular disease, within the living organism that is the historic landscape.
Through a cooperative agreement with NCPTT, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (MDCR) produced “Mourning Glory: Preserving Historic Cemeteries,” that addresses these issues. The document is the tenth in the highly successful series of Terra Firma publications produced by MDCR that address preservation of historic landscapes. “Mourning Glory” provides guidance on cemetery landscape preservation topics such as establishing a preservation strategy, educating the public about historic character, and implementing best practices. As part of the cooperative agreement, NCPTT contributed best practice sections for maintaining decorative iron fences and cleaning headstones.
To learn more or to access other MDCR historic landscape preservation publications, visit http://www.mass.gov/dcr/stewardship/histland/publications.htm