A Smash, and Piles of Stone:  Reassembling Severely Damaged Markers on Concrete Pads.

Mary Jablonski

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 conservators contacted the cemetery trustees and began the process of working with the insurance company.

Where the car had flipped, the markers it landed on 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 stone fragments had been taken inside to protect them from being taken or lost.  When it became time to put Humpty Dumpty back together again 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 four markers that would preclude pinning them back together.  It was also discovered that 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.

The conservator decided to try using concrete pads to support these shattered markers.  The remaining pieces of the markers could be laid out on the pads and areas of loss could be infilled with a composite patching material.  Templates were made of the shapes of the remains of the four markers.  These templates were sent to cast stone firm and four inch thick concrete pads were made to the conservator’s specifications.  The pads were placed on the ground over the presumed location of the coffin and tilted slightly to ensure water run off.  The four seriously damaged markers adhered with spots of a stone repair epoxy and laid out on a thick lime mortar bed on top of the concrete pad.  A commercial composite patching mix was then used to fill losses and ensure water would not pool on the surface.  Two years after the completion of this work, the markers have been reassessed.  To-date, the markers are in good condition and there do not appear to be any serious problems with this treatment.  It continues to be monitored every year.

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.

Formal and Informal Cemeteries: A View of the Old School Cemetery

Hugh B. Matternes, Ph.D.


Staci Richey, M.A.

New South Associates

Cemeteries are frequently classified by the institutions that regulate the range of expression applied to the cemetery as a whole.  Such groups as churches, burial associations, governing authorities and commercial enterprises oversee these Formal Cemeteries. They insure that funeral displays, graveside representations and the dead’s personage convey social messages that compliment the burial community as a whole; less complimentary forms are excluded from use.  Grave placement follows a plan defined by these institutions. Formal Cemeteries can be recognized by their highly organized nature, a relatively limited range of mortuary expression and clearly documented ownership of the cemetery grounds.

Informal Cemeteries lack a singular governing institution.  Multiple organizations, particularly family groups, may exert control over plots within the cemetery, however their power and authority does not extend beyond the plot boundary.  Graves are not organized according to a central geographic theme, rather they are ordered following only the most general grave placement conventions.  Informal cemeteries lack conformity; funerary displays, graveside decorations, and the dead interred in them span all forms present within the burial community.  There are no uniform messages about the burial community; expressions convey information specifically about the dead and those buried with them.  Informal cemeteries can be recognized by their diverse range of surface material expression.  They tend to develop on abandoned or unowned tracts or on grounds where the legal landowner does not exert authoritative control over the property.

The presence of informal cemeteries conveys significant social divisions within a community.  Recognizing them is an important component of community reconstruction.  The survey, historical documentation and interpretation of Old School Cemetery, an African-American burial ground in Washington, Georgia, provided the opportunity to operationalize how an informal cemetery may be identified.

A full inventory of all aboveground surface features was generated using a customized digital cemetery database to identify the general limits of the cemetery.  Margins and empty spaces within the cemetery were then subjected to subsurface examination using ceramic tile probes to identify unmarked, unrecognized graves and to confirm the cemetery’s boundaries. An examination of existing information, including land and court records, manuscripts in the Wilkes County libraries and documents in historical collections was conducted.  These were supplemented with interviews of informants who had ties to the cemetery.  A review of mortuary practices from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century provided an important context for the survey and historical information.  Particular emphasis was placed on African American, upland and lowland folk traditions.

The results of this project concluded that the cemetery formed on property that was never developed by the landowner and was probably abandoned after the cemetery came into active use.  African-Americans, particularly family groups, landscaped and decorated terrace plots based on availability and access.  These groups used a variety of media to express family, community, religious, artistic and individual values.  These media were consistent with forms found in folk and African-American traditions, but tend to be rare or absent in contemporary formal cemeteries for the same community. The informal cemetery was proposed as an avenue of material and symbolic expression for community members whose values or beliefs may not correspond with those regulating more formal burial areas.


Hugh B. Matternes, PhD and Staci Richey, MA are core members of the New South Associates’ Cemetery Studies Group, a colloquium of archaeologists and historic preservationists who strive to understand and preserve cemeteries.  Matternes’ emphasis is on understanding historic cemeteries as cultural phenomena, leaving an imprint on the cultural landscape.  Richey stresses that they are products of historic entities whose place in the social matrix may be recovered by examining surface and historic records.  By combining their diverse research paradigms, as seen in the Old School Cemetery, Matternes and Richey have been able to illuminate aspects of cemetery form and mortuary-related behavior that would not be visible from any singular approach.

Mary Striegel and Jennifer Mass discuss research at the poster session

Mary Striegel and Jennifer Mass discuss research at the poster session

Identification and Preservation of the Sulfur-Inlaid Gravestones of America’s German-Speaking Settlers: Tracing their Migration and Material Culture from Pennsylvania to North Carolina

Jennifer L. Mass, Senior Scientist

Winterthur Museum and Country Estate

First identified and documented in the 1950s, sulfur inlaid furniture associated with the Pennsylvania Germans and their descendants has been studied intensively by Winterthur curators, conservators, and scientists for over a decade. Major breakthroughs in this work have included the successful reproduction of the technique (including its unusual porous microstructure) by Winterthur furniture conservators, and the characterization of the sulfur as physically degraded pure a-sulfur (the yellow allotrope of sulfur) despite the inlay’s ivory color. Important collections of this art form, unique to America’s German settlers, can be found at Winterthur as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the Lancaster Heritage Center, and in numerous private collections.  Furniture inlaid with this material has also been identified in Virginia and North Carolina, and examples can be found in the collection of MESDA, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. These objects highlight the migration of Pennsylvania’s German-speaking settlers and their decorative arts traditions into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the Carolinas in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

For decades, scholars have heard colloquial tales of the German-speaking settlers making not only made sulfur-inlaid furniture, but also sulfur-inlaid gravestones. These gravestones are thought to exist in southeastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Specific cemeteries include St. Mary’s, St. Benjamin’s and St. Luke’s of New Windsor, Maryland (Carroll County).  However these gravestones, despite their importance as documents of Pennsylvania German material culture in America, have never been documented nor their state of preservation assessed.  An examination of these cemeteries has been the first step in ensuring the preservation of these gravestones, and has enabled us to begin to more precisely document the migration route of German-speaking settlers. It is hoped that this work will establish a more detailed and definitive link between the Pennsylvania and North Carolina sulfur-inlay traditions.

A preliminary survey was conducted to determine how many gravestones that appear to be inlaid with sulfur are extant in the cemeteries listed above. The survey also documented their conditions and exact locations. A second survey is planned that will employ a rhodium-tube Tracer Turbo handheld XRF to definitively identify the sulfur-containing inlays (as well as traces of sulfur where the inlay is no longer visible), as well as determine the presence of any chalk, clay, or lead putty additives or restorations. Permission for sampling has been obtained, allowing for milligram-sized samples to be removed for Raman spectroscopy and SEM-EDS to determine the allotropes of sulfur identified and also the degradation phenomena occurring. The type of stone into which the sulfur is inlaid will also be investigated. Sulfur inlay in furniture is typically applied to black walnut (Juglans nigra), possibly to create a high contrast of the dark wood with the bright yellow inlay, and it has been observed that only dark stones such as slates are employed for the gravestones inlaid with sulfur.

Historical Human Remains Detection Dogs

Institute for Canine Forensics

P.O. Box 620699

Woodside, CA 94062-0699

Adela Morris

Canines trained to alert on specific scents have long been utilized in law enforcement, military and search and rescue work. The Historical Human Remains Detection (HHRD) dog is trained and certified for one purpose: to locate historic and pre-historic burials. Its specialized training makes it a unique remote sensing resource for archaeologists. The dog is taught to search in a slow, methodical style with a passive alert that is not destructive to bones or graves. The HHRD dog is NOT a search and rescue dog, they are never trained to alert on live human scent or other kinds of detection work.

The Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF) is a non-profit corporation located in the Bay Area of California. They specialize in offering workshops and trainings in human remains detection for canine handlers. ICF is the only organization in the world that is training and certifying dogs for work locating old burials. Using dogs trained for this work in conjunction with traditional archaeological techniques like GPR can give a more complete picture and compliments the Archaeological team in the location of historic human remains.

Ground Penetrating Radar as a Tool for Cemetery Preservation, Planning, and Management: Lessons from Randolph Cemetery, Columbia, South Carolina

Shawn M. Patch

New South Associates, Inc.

This poster is a case study in applying ground penetrating radar (GPR) to help address larger preservation, planning, and management issues for historic cemeteries. GPR is a geophysical technique frequently used by archaeologists to investigate a wide range of sites and features. It is particularly well suited to cemeteries because it is non-invasive, fast, efficient, accurate, and reliable.

B.F. Randolph Cemetery is located in downtown Columbia, South Carolina. It was established in 1872 and named for state senator Benjamin Franklin Randolph, who was assassinated in 1868. Since that time, the cemetery has grown in prestige, serving as the final resting place for other prominent African-Americans.

Over the years the cemetery has suffered from vandalism, neglect, and poor management.  Many of the markers have been displaced, lost, or damaged, and there were no maps showing all grave locations. Several recent burials have impacted earlier graves that may or may not have been marked at one time. Trustees of the cemetery suspected that the true number of graves was far higher than indicated by existing surface conditions. Unfortunately, this situation is fairly common at cemeteries across the country.

In 2007, the Historic Columbia Foundation (HCF) began developing a plan for the long-term preservation and management of Randolph Cemetery. Since that time, HCF has broadened its scope to include multiple stakeholders, including the Committee for the Beautification and Restoration of Randolph Cemetery (CBRCC), and Downtown Columbia Cemetery Task Force (DCCTF).

The first phase of work focused on basic mapping and documentation, including a detailed topographic map with all grave markers and associated cemetery features (walls, coping, vegetation, paths, roads, etc);  development of a database with all grave marker information; limited probing of selected areas to assess the potential for unmarked graves; and recommendations for preservation, restoration, and management. The spatial data (mapping and database), were subsequently incorporated into a geographic information system (GIS), for easier manipulation.

A second phase of work occurred in 2009, and included a GPR survey of selected areas in the cemetery. The survey had two primary goals: 1) identify the number and extent of unmarked graves, and 2) investigate the possibility of multiple and/or overlapping graves.

GPR successfully identified 164 unique targets consistent with expectations for historic graves. Of this number, 25 were associated with existing markers and 12 others were associated with graves identified during the probing survey. However, the remaining 128 targets are previously unknown graves. In addition to the overall number of unmarked graves, the radar data also show evidence of multiple and/or overlapping graves, and variability in burial depth. The radar results were also used to estimate the overall density of graves throughout the cemetery.

As a result of the GPR survey, cemetery trustees held a public meeting in August 2009, to discuss the possibility of closing the cemetery to all future interments. At that meeting, family members agreed to end the sale of burial plots forever, and stop all planned burials unless ownership and space can be conclusively demonstrated.

GPR was a critical component to the successful resolution of a difficult management problem. It provided highly accurate and reliable results in a short time frame at reasonable costs. In addition, as a scientific and technical application, the GPR results may have had increased credibility with the lay public. This case study shows one way that geophysical techniques can be applied to cemetery preservation and planning that goes beyond identification of unmarked graves.

Cemeteries of the Niagara Region of Ontario

Catherine Paterson, B.Sc. M.A.        ?
Ph.D. Candidate, McMaster University

This research explores recent efforts to maintain historic family cemeteries in the Niagara region of Ontario.  These family cemeteries were first created during settlement by Loyalists in the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s by subsequent settlers.  Some are still in use today, but the majority are no longer used for burial.  Modern intervention is often seen in these cemeteries when monuments are repaired or in cases where monuments are collected and embedded in concrete.  There are additional cemeteries where efforts to maintain them take various forms instead of or in addition to monument preservation.  In some of these cemeteries markers no longer remain, markers are not in need of work, or markers were set in concrete rather than being repaired.  Instead of the preservation of individual monuments in these cemeteries, there is a range of endeavours that focus on extending the visibility and presence of the cemetery once the original monuments are gone.

Examples include the Culp, Lampman and Butler family cemeteries.  In the case of the Culp Family Cemetery no monuments remain, so it is a heritage sign that indicates the presence of the historic burial ground and outlines its place in the history of the region.  The Lampman Family Cemetery is the burial location of a husband and wife in a cluster of growth in the centre of a farm field.  The marker of Charity Lampman has disappeared, but that of her husband Samuel is still standing and is in good condition.  A local heritage group has placed a large granite boulder at the burial site with a plaque with the Lampman’s names and birth and death years.  At the Butler Family Cemetery the original slab monuments, several of which are broken, have been set flat in concrete or in the ground.  In 1967 granite tablet replicas were created and placed above each flat historical marker.

These endeavours indicate a desire to maintain a physical record of the existence and location of each cemetery and to ensure that the identity of those buried there will not be lost. This clearly extends the lifespan of the visible component of the cemetery without the use of traditional techniques to preserve individual historic monuments. Family cemeteries in the Niagara region such as Culp, Lampman and Butler offer an opportunity to explore (1) creative variations in the methods used to prolong cemetery existence; (2) the role and use of historic cemeteries as ties to the past and the heritage of a region; and, (3) the links between local heritage and how and why such recent preservation efforts are carried out by communities.

This research falls within my broader Ph.D. research that focuses on the creation and use of family cemeteries in the Niagara region during 18th and 19th century settlement.  I am exploring the links between cemetery use and family, community, memory and identity and the transition to the use of municipal and church cemeteries as settlements developed.   Preliminary results indicate that during their use, family cemeteries were locales where settlers negotiated various aspects of identity including their family, community and country of origin.  When looking at the use of cemeteries by families for burial in the past and more recently by communities for maintaining links to their past, there is a continuity of family cemeteries as being places where identity and collective memory are created and negotiated.

RIP Guardians of Texas

Anne Shelton

Texas Historical Commission

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