Cemetery Management Training Video

NARRATOR Historic cemeteries are important components of cultural landscapes. They embody the character and evolution of forgotten communities. They also express historic trends in landscaping, religion, and design. Because they consist of designed landscapes and grave markers made of a variety of materials, they require special treatment.

In October of 2008, California State Parks, the National Park Service and the University of Oregon sponsored an Historic Cemetery Preservation Workshop at Bodie State Historic Park.

In this video, we assess the cemetery at Bodie State Historic Park and discuss the planning and conservation process. We also describe some of the research and conservation techniques useful in working on historic cemeteries.

Comprehensive cemetery preservation entails developing a management plan that guides appropriate repair and conservation work. Developing a master plan for a cemetery is a complex undertaking. A good plan will integrate issues of rehabilitation or treatment of markers, features, and landscape with issues such as priorities and the available budget. It will also address the long-term needs of the cemetery, particularly maintenance. The plan can also include provisions for the use of the cemetery.

Planning to manage an historic cemetery includes the following 6 steps: First, conduct research to identify the extent and location of the cemetery; Second, survey and document the location of the gravesites, markers, enclosures, paths, and vegetation; Third, determine realistic repair and restoration goals, with an emphasis on salvaging original materials; Fourth, prioritize repair and restoration treatments based on threats to the site and foreseeable resources; Fifth, establish a regular maintenance program, and last, Identify appropriate conservation techniques for stone, marble, wood, iron, and other materials.

SALLY DONOVAN, Donovan and Associates, Cemetery Preservation Consultant) . I really like working here. You are working with stone, you’re working with wood, and metal. You get all of it. A lot of cemeteries that I work in aren’t like that.

NARRATOR The object of cemetery research is to establish the historical extent and appearance of the cemetery, particularly during a particular time period of significance. Research sources include municipal and church records, newspapers, maps, photographs, family records and local historical societies. These sources provide background information, and help ensure that landscape activities, conservation treatments, and interpretation are all appropriate and accurate.

SALLY DONOVAN …to have the historic documentation you need to do that accurate restoration. When we were doing the historic research on the cemetery, the photographs were invaluable, because we started doing before and after, or then and now, pictures, and we saw how many stones were gone. It’s pretty amazing. So in my mind, when we start working in a cemetery, those stones that are still there are a high priority.

NARRATOR To document a cemetery, create an inventory of all gravestones, non-marked graves, and all landscape features. Make a map of the cemetery grounds, including the location of all trees, bushes, roads, fences, gates and other landscape features. Make a written record of each gravestone on a survey form. Photographs of gravestones should be included with the written record.

JOE BOURGET, California State Parks) The material that the monument is made of is cast zinc. Marker type 1A, it’s in base, poured with concrete inside of it. The iron railing is in good condition so is the foundation. The base of the foundation for the monument is starting to crack along the edges, which since it is plugged and cast inside the monument itself we thought it was a 2 to 5 year to look at.

SALLY DONOVAN) So it’s a stone by stone assessment, and there’s different treatments for each one. Some will be very easy such as leveling the stone and putting it back up, doing mortar, things like that and other ones will be more intensive conservation work on them. So we’re going to be looking at all the historic information, taking in what’s on the ground, and using the new kinds of techniques that we’ll see today.

NARRATOR: Recent innovations of historic cemetery research include the use of human remains detection dogs and ground penetrating radar. Each of these techniques were demonstrated at the Bodie workshop.

Adela Morris, canine research specialist from the Institute of Canine Forensics, brought two of her working dogs to show how they can be used to find human remains. This is one way to help find unmarked graves in or outside the boundaries of the cemetery. The dog is able to separate the smells of human scent from those of the surrounding earth. After the human remains detection dogs establish areas that may contain graves, then other confirming studies can be done, including ground penetrating radar.

DEAN GOODMAN, Geophysicist, Geophysical Archaeometry Laboratory, Los Angeles) We’re doing what’s called a ground penetrating radar survey. Some people know it as GPR, and what we’re doing is sending down microwaves into the ground over profiles. If there’s any contrast buried in the ground, we can pick up placements from those contrasts, put that data into a computer, and make 3-D images of what’s going on in the ground.

NARRATOR Once all of the gravestones and features have been inventoried, define the goals for restoring and managing the historic cemetery. Goals might include to conserve or repair remaining stones, restore markers and enclosures to an earlier appearance, document existing conditions, preserve remaining original materials, bury remaining markers in place to prevent theft, or manage the vegetation to achieve a desired appearance. An important primary concept in cemetery management is to preserve the remaining original materials so as to maintain the integrity and character of the cemetery.

NARRATOR Once the inventory is complete, the next step is to establish priorities for conservation and restoration work. Priorities will depend on the degree of threat and the likely resources available for the work.

SALLY DONOVAN, pointing) The person might be more prominent, the stone might be more artistic – things like that so you can start taking into account where is this (marker) in the whole survey of the cemetery; if it’s a really important monument, or maybe not as important, a more common one, that tells a story (that he was president of the miners) And it’s one of the oldest ones. I would give this a high priority

SALLY DONOVAN) You have to think about what kind of treatment you’re going to use – we are not sure what we’re going to use here. Some cemeteries have opted for instead of taking the smaller stones that might walk away with people, taking those and they bury them in the grave. Then you can go back and do restoration of that later. It’s a way to safe-keep them, because they do walk away. I’ve worked in so many cemeteries where I’ll go out there, and one week the little pieces will be there, and the next week I’ll go back, and they’re gone, or half of them are gone. So it’s really important to evaluate them, document them, and get them off site if that’s the treatment plan that you choose. Or, the alternative is to bury them until you can document that.

CHUCK FELL, Maintenance Chief, California State Parks) This is what’s left of a wooden enclosure that’s obviously fallen on hard times. Now, you can see the mortise and tenons of the lower and the upper plates that held it all together, but you have to look closely to see this one had slats attached to the front, like a picket fence, because you can see the marks where that was at. Now, looking at this thing in its present condition, you can pretty much figure out what was here before without trying real hard. And so, if you were to replace this we could probably replicate what was here.

NARRATOR -- Restoration of stone or marble monuments or ironwork should occur after restoration goals have been established. A management plan should focus on ensuring the stability and physical integrity of these materials without cosmetic reconstruction which can often lead to additional problems.

TERRI GEISSINGERS, Interpretive Specialist, California State Parks) If you could prove that there was a headstone here, could you put something else here, so that you could at least have the man’s name, or what would you do?

SALLY DONOVAN) A lot of people like to take the basic shape and put that up as a reproduction, don’t put anything else on it, just the person’s name and that’s it. Other cemeteries have just done a flat marker, so that you’re not visually seeing something, but you are marking the grave so you know who it is. That’s something to talk through as we go through the master planning process, to get a consensus on it and on what’s the best strategy and preservation technique. I personally think that interpreting that some way, that there’s a burial there, with a name, somehow, is a good thing.

NARRATOR The old adage “Haste makes waste” truly applies to historic cemeteries. Often there is a feeling by those trying to save cemeteries that conservation work must be done immediately. This usually isn't the case and, when preservation efforts are rushed, there is the potential for very serious -- and long-lasting -- damage. Take the time and make the effort to obtain assessment and condition reports before starting a restoration project.

DONNA JONES, California State Parks) That’s why we pay for condition reports first, to get that assessment done. The other beauty of condition reports is you ask next for a treatment proposal and that’s where the folks write out for you what it is they intend to do to every feature out there, and that’s major cause we’ve got a couple of them that you read it and you think, this doesn’t sound quite right. That gives you time to slow down and call other people, call around, somebody else has always gone down this road before we have. We want to make sure we help you get those prescriptions ahead of time before we launch into doing anything, that way in the long run it saves us money so then we don’t go out there and undo what we did the first time.

NARRATOR The final step in a master planning process is to develop a routine maintenance program. This should include regular inspections of the monuments, walls and fences, and include guidelines for repairs as well as care of vegetation. It should specify the type of materials to be used in the event that fencing or vegetation must be replaced, as well as appropriate methods for cleaning stone grave markers and iron work.

BRAD STURDEVANT, California State Parks) We don’t want to change the character of the cemetery, much at all. There are things that we are going to do that are going to look new as in we would do in the buildings. It doesn’t change that character of the place, but if we get in here and start taking out sagebrush and putting down astroturf or whatever, yeah that’s going to change it. That’s not what we want to do.

NARRATOR In this video, we have looked at the 6 elements of cemetery management. One of the key messages of this training is to plan before starting a restoration or conservation project in an historic cemetery. Preserving an historic cemetery involves a wide range of disciplines, including landscape architecture, historic and archival research, conservation, and at times even a structural engineer. It will be important to involve experts in these disciplines to develop and carry out the management plan.

For more information, visit www.parks.ca.gov/cemeterymanagement