After a couple of heavy news weeks, this past one was pretty light again. Instead of our usual Monday News Round-up then, we have a guest post from Vicki Myers – one of our friends at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History – who’ll share some insights from the Historic Cemetery Workshop from December 1.
Working with Historic Preservation Commissions around the state, I frequently hear of a desire for more “hands-on” preservation workshops. As MDAH works with Co-Lin Community College, the Historic Natchez Foundation, and the National Park Service in developing a Preservation Trade School, the opportunities for these types of workshops should increase.
The first of these workshops focused on Historic Cemetery Conservation, led by Jason Church of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT), and was held in Natchez on December 1.
The morning began with two presentations by Church in the Historic Natchez Foundation facilities. Church started with a talk about the importance of documenting cemeteries with photographs, maps, and forms. The process is very similar to what you should do when completing a Historic Resources Survey for an historic district – but documenting the cemetery can be easily done by dedicated volunteers. Information gathered during this process should be easily accessible – not just stored in someone’s home. For instance, the genealogical section of your local library would likely be interested in having a comprehensive survey of your cemetery on hand for researchers.
The information will also be vital if something horrible happens in the future. What if someone steals some of the wrought iron fencing in your cemetery? Without documentation that the fencing was there, you will not get the materials back if they are found. It will also be difficult to repair or replace anything that is damaged or missing.
Church’s second talk provided the basics of working on the various materials used for cemetery markers and working with volunteers. Take the time to gather your volunteers to make sure that everyone is on the same page. If they are helping document the cemetery or if you’re having a cleaning day, taking a little bit of time to do an “orientation” will help ensure that you get the results you desire. Provide definitions for things that might be on your survey form. Talk about the steps for cleaning the materials – something that Church also did for the group in preparation of the afternoon at Natchez City Cemetery.
Much of the approach to cleaning is common sense: You want to keep the area wet – with low pressure water (from a basic garden hose). Use the gentlest cleaners you can – pH neutral products are best – NEVER bleach. Using gentle cleaners rather than harsh chemicals minimizes the potential to damage the markers – and these cleaners are also safe for a variety of people to use with only minor protection (gloves primarily, also goggles or other eye-ware). Use soft bristle brushes, circular motions and work from the bottom up.
You also want to be PATIENT – it took time for the cemetery to get into the state it’s in, it will take time to work on it.
This particular workshop was not looking at the physical repair of damaged markers. Anyone seeking specific advice on physical repair should contact NCPTT for advice. You should realize that it will likely take a professional to do the repair properly.
Those involved with the planning of this event thought it was successful – and are already looking at future workshops. Window repair and masonry are two potential topics as well as having another Cemetery Worskhop. No dates have been set for these yet, but MDAH will be sure to share the details once they are.
Here are some photographs of one of the markers that attendees worked on in the afternoon portion of the workshop. Additional images can be found on MDAH’s Technical Preservation Services Facebook Page. Future workshops will also be announced on this page.
And by the way – if you’ve never been to the Natchez City Cemetery, put it on your list of sites to visit (maybe while you’re crossing off some of the places that are on the MissPres “101 Must See” list). It’s amazing.