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Abstract: Preservation Issues of Wooden Grave Markers and Other Wooden Artifacts

Presenter: Kimberly D. Dugan
Title: Preservation Specialist
Organization: Anthony & Associates, Inc.

Presenter: Ronald W. Anthony
Title: Wood Scientist
Organization: Anthony & Associates, Inc.

Presenter Biographies:

Kim Dugan, Preservation Specialist, has a M.A. in Anthropology with an emphasis in Historic Archaeology from Colorado State University. She has also taken coursework in Construction Management and Architecture with an emphasis in Historic Preservation. Her experience in cultural resource management and historic preservation project management extends over a decade. She focuses on documentation and research needs as well as new products and technologies for wood preservation.

Ron Anthony, Wood Scientist for Anthony & Associates, Inc. received a Master of Science degree in Wood Science and a Bachelor of Science degree in Wood Science and Technology from Colorado State University. His research and consulting activities have focused on developing a better understanding of how wood interacts with other materials and performs over time. In 2002, he received the James Marston Fitch Foundation Grant for his approach to evaluating wood in historic buildings.


Wooden artifacts in cemeteries are often overlooked as significant pieces of our cultural heritage and are typically dismissed as impermanent, and unsalvageable, objects. These artifacts include head and foot markers, crosses, plaques, sculptures, grave curbs, grave fences, grave houses, and plot enclosures, as well as historic perimeter fences. Two primary factors have led to poor decisions regarding wooden artifacts:

  1. The general lack of readily accessible information on the conditions and conservation needs of wooden artifacts. Since wooden artifacts have characteristics and properties that differ from stone and metal monuments, it is important to have a basic understanding of wood as a material, wood deterioration, and available treatment options for artifact preservation. Additionally, unlike wood used in the construction of a house or building that is typically periodically maintained, wooden artifacts are continuously exposed to ultraviolet light, precipitation, freeze/thaw action, and exfoliation processes, all of which hasten the wood deterioration process.
  2. The expense of regular maintenance and/or treatment programs. Cemetery stewards must often act to preserve fragile wooden artifacts with limited financial resources, placing expensive or high-maintenance treatments outside the range of realistic preservation options. However, with some basic management practices, the service-life of many wooden artifacts can be extended with little financial cost.

This presentation, targeted towards lay and professional practitioners, provides a foundation for understanding wood and identifying the various mechanisms of deterioration for wooden artifacts. The presentation will include a discussion of:

  • Some of the physical properties of wood and how wood behaves when exposed to exterior environmental conditions.
  • Methods to identify and assess the various forms of wood deterioration such as weathering processes, moisture, wood decay fungi, moss and lichens, insect damage, and mechanical damage that can occur within wood exposed to the elements.
  • Low-cost, low-maintenance options, such as water and vegetation management, for extending the life of wooden cemetery artifacts.
  • Repair options: the challenges of replacing or repairing in-kind, methods that do not work, and possible alternative solutions.

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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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