Somehow, we are already several days into July, and we have recently finished up with the 3rd week of our project with the Trinity Historical Society! It was so exciting to get back out to Trinity at the start of the tourist season, and get to see so many visitors who were excited to see the town and learn about the project to protect the graveyard and all the gravestones within! If you are interested in supporting the restoration of the graveyard, check out the THS’s fundraising ‘Adopt A Headstone’ project, located here: https://www.trinityhistoricalsociety.com/headstone.html
Thank you again to Corey Jones, owner of Trinity Cabins, for donating one of the cabins to the project so we had somewhere to stay while in Trinity! And thank you to everyone who came out to see us while we were on site in June, we had a great time chatting with all of you!
We were joined this week (June 20-24th) by Ian Morris, one of the directors of this project along with Kevin Toope, and Kyle Hurdle, a THS employee. It was great to have some enthusiastic extra hands to help us move some soil and upright some headstones that were leaning. It was an ambitious week, with 50 (!!) gravestones marked out for urgent preservation before the end of the season. These stones were the ones that were leaning the most, and had other damage that might worsen through the winter, so it was important to get them seen to this year. We weren’t sure if we’d manage it all, but with the extra hands on site all week, we were able to complete 52 gravestones! Thank you everyone!
We still held an archaeological permit for this work. It is important to remember that historic burial grounds, cemeteries, and graveyards, are heritage sites and those of historic significance, or those considered ‘abandoned’ in that no one cares for them anymore, and protected as archaeological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador. As a result, undertaking conservation work at these sites requires archaeological experience and an archaeology permit.
The week started off with a rainy day (see above!), but we worked through it! Light showers on and off all morning weren’t going to stop us…but it did stop epoxy repairs until the afternoon dried it up a little, since the stone epoxy we use cannot set if it is wet. I get it, it’s hard to work when you’re soaked! Part of the conservation process means recording everything you do to an artifact. In this case, the artifacts were the gravestones, so we took before and after photos of everything, and documented what was done to each stone. These are vital records for the THS, so that in the future if a stone breaks again or falls over, it will be easy to tell if anything had been done to repair it in the past, and what needs to be done moving forwards. It’s also a good way to record what kind of conservation techniques are being used, because they can change in the future as we learn more about how to preserve things!
Many of the gravestones that we worked on this week required a little extra care and cleaning, because they were all ‘high priority’ gravestones. To the right, you can see Ian (P) and Ian (M) cleaning a stone with a large amount of orange lichen blooms on the back of the stone. For stones like this, we soak them in water and a little D2 for a few minutes to help soften and loosen the lichen, and then carefully scrape it off with soft plastic scrapers or bamboo skewers. They are softer than the stone itself, but you still need to be careful because hard, old lichens have eaten into the stone and can remove pieces of the surface with it. We try not to remove those portions, and just let the D2 do its thing, in those cases!
Just like in May, our chain hoist was the biggest asset to the project, and meant we could raise stones with much more ease than we could last year. The limestone gravestones never gave us too much trouble, as I talked about before, because they didn’t have a base of any kind but extended right into the ground a foot or more for stability. This style is older and we don’t see it used much anymore, but it makes it so much easier for raising and repairs! The monuments that really gave us problems were the 19th-century marble gravestones, with their heavy ‘keys’ made of sandstone traditionally, or replaced with heavy concrete, often way larger than is needed to keep the stone up. When they sink, the weight of the keys makes it so difficult to get out of the ground, which we always need to do to create a nice level foundation of packed crusher dust, which allows for better drainage and reduces sinking of the stone.
Here are two of the 52 gravestones we worked on over the course of the week (this post would be a book if I talked about them all)! On the top we have stone #87, a marble gravestone with an extremely large concrete key, that has sunken quite far underground. Unfortunately we don’t have any photos of that because it took four of us to wrestle it out of the ground long enough to make a new gravel foundation for it, get it back in, and level the thing. After that, the stone went up without issue, and we repaired the breaks with our standard UV-stable stone epoxy.
The second stone is a huge, locally carved in St. John’s by carver J. Hay, sandstone gravestone to the Day family. It was erected in 1855 after a house fire killed the five Day children along with their cousin. One of the most monumental gravestones at the site, and certainly one of the most tragic stories document there, this stone is located at the far end of the graveyard nearest the water, and was leaning backwards significantly. Because of its size, we had to use the chain hoist to raise it back up! We dug out the loose soil below and packed gravel below, and around the bottom section of the stone to ensure stability moving forward. The last photo shows the gravestone after it had been reset, but before it was cleaned. It was a pleasure to restore this gravestone for the family.
As always, gravestone restoration wasn’t all we got up to in Trinity this week. We got ice cream from Aunt Sarah’s a couple of times (and some sneaky chocolates too!), visited Bonavista to look at the historic buildings, visited with our new friends by the fire, fed whiskey jacks from our cabin’s little porch, went for an amaaazing dinner at the ‘Twine Loft’ restaurant, and poked around the shore. Thank you for a wonderful week, Trinity!