Everyone needs to work hard to help save these beautiful cemeteries for the future.
Cemeteries and burial grounds are cultural landscapes. The cornerstone to any conservation plan is an accurate and comprehensive survey. The project documented 150+ site defining features of the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 landscape, tombs, and markers using a descriptive survey form and illustrated survey manual developed by the project.
In March 2001, 25 students from the University of Pennsylvania traveled to New Orleans for their 1-week Spring Break. During the week, they surveyed the site. The survey included measurements of boundaries, site defining features, and the topography of the land. In the tomb survey, the location, type, height, description, and features of each tomb were documented and a full material and condition assessment was made.
Round many of them are planted rose bushes and other flowering shrubs, some of which at this time were in full bearing and here and there were cedar and orange trees, which always retain their greenness. — A. Oakey Hall, 1852
Before the site visit, historical images and references to landscape features were collected and analyzed. On site, a complete inventory of the current features, vegetation, ground covers, path materials, drains, and individuation plantings was taken. Further topographic mapping information was collected and all interior and exterior paths and sidewalks were surveyed. During Phase 2, a second survey of the ground surface materials more fully defined paths and tomb precincts.
The following place-defining landscape components were identified and inventoried during the site visit:
- Vegetation refers to the plant-life found as either plantings or groundcover throughout the site. Included in this category are trees, ivy/groundcover, and grass.
- The topography of the site refers to the variations in ground level as measured with a theodolite, which is a device that uses lasers to determine elevations. There is little variation in topography within the site, which mimics that of the city.
- Drainage System
- The site's drainage system consists of surface inlets and sub surface conduits that are scattered throughout the cemetery, all which lead into the city sewage system. It is likely that the drains were installed at the same time as the concrete paving, as both serve to control the flow of water through the cemetery. The drainage of the site is affected by the limited topographic differentiation throughout.
- Enclosures refer to the walls and gates associated with the cemetery. There are three gates, which were used throughout the site's history, though only one currently admits visitors. These gates are wrought iron, and are attached to brick walls that surround the entire cemetery. These walls serve to denote the limits of the cemetery in its current state.
- Open Spaces
- Open spaces refer to areas free of tombs. There are few areas in the cemetery that are currently, if not historically, considered open spaces. Open spaces may be locations of former tombs long since gone.
- Tomb Precincts
- The ground immediately surrounding the tomb/marker and the closure that defines the plot.
- Ground Surface
- Ground surface refers to any material used to create surfaces between and around tombs, as well as path systems. The ground surfaces currently present in the cemetery include asphalt, concrete, crushed shell, flagstone, sandstone, soil, grass and ivy/ground cover, with asphalt, concrete, and bare soil being the most prevalent.
Tomb & Marker Survey
The true value of any condition assessment survey program must begin with a clear definition of what information is required and why.
Undertaking a tomb and marker condition assessment survey can be a daunting task given the sheer number and variety of types, materials, and conditions found in a site. In order to make sure the results are meaningful, all surveyors must use the same definitions and view conditions the same way. An illustrated Survey Manual and several pre-survey training sessions ensured a successful survey. During the survey, over 700 tomb/marker lots were investigated and approximately 650 tombs or markers received a full survey. Survey definitions and summary results of each survey can be viewed using Tomb Search or the Site Map. Summary maps showing many of the conditions can be found in Maps. A select group of tombs received further study and material analysis so that performance issues and decay mechanisms could be fully described.
...disjointed alleys, intimate pockets of open space, dramatic vistas, and sudden dead-ends.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was never intended to be experienced as a place of derelict tombs. However, over time, the cemetery, like many such sites, has become defined by, and admired for, its picturesque decay, as well as its mortuary architecture. Indeed, much of its past and current appeal is tied to this aspect of age. Weathering and age are essential components of the site, and there will always be differences in opinion as to the division between historical character and tombs in poor, unsatisfactory condition. A combination of environmental and cultural processes has left St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 with its current spatial configuration of disjointed alleys, intimate pockets of open space, dramatic vistas, and sudden dead-ends.
There are walks leading to different parts of this singular cemetery, paved neatly with shells. — Emmeline Stuart Wortley, Travels in the United States etc. During 1848 and 1850 (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1851).
The cemetery shares many of the characteristics of the historic city, implying a long-established sense of order, but one that has succumbed, incrementally, to centuries of small and large-scale changes. Its architecture is a rich palate of forms and details, jumbled together in a miniaturized city of tombs, tombscapes and open spaces.
A variety of maintenance and repair approaches, weather cycles, and a stream of visitor interactions have left their mark on the physical fabric of the cemetery. Some of these processes have affected the site on a relatively large scale, such as the movement of water across the cemetery, and some were limited to a small area like the inscribed graffiti of individual celebrity tombs. Whether changes are caused by nature or by humans, many alterations to the cemetery have accumulated over the centuries, giving its form a dynamic quality, as processes of accretion and subtraction happen simultaneously to make a space that, despite its apparent age and stasis, is characterized by spatial, material, and cultural flux.
Ground Surfaces - Modern asphalt and cement paving cover most of the surfaces traditionally covered in grass or paved with shell. See map of ground surfaces.
Vegetation - Most of the trees and bushes have died or have been removed.
Drainage - Continues to be a problem, although an underground drain system has been installed in modern times.
Tomb & Marker Findings
They bury their dead in vaults above ground. These vaults have a resemblance to houses — sometimes to temples; ... architecturally graceful and shapely ... — Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi. Louis M. Hacker, general editor. Sagamore Press, Inc.: New York, 1957.
The majority of the tombs in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 are pediment, parapet, or platform tombs and are of brick construction covered with stucco. Roof and primary structure conditions range from very poor to good, with most tombs stable enough to benefit from a conservation program.
From the survey, it was determined that the majority of the tombs on site, about 75%, are of brick, with most of them finished in stucco. The only stone evident is in the few marble or marble faced tombs, making up ~5% of the tombs. The majority of the tombs in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 are of brick construction covered with stucco. Tomb bricks range in quality, but most are soft and porous, and appear to be both hand and early machine made.
Although wall vaults and society tombs are most often mentioned in the many books and guides, the most prevalent tomb types are the platform, parapet, and pediment tombs. Together, they make up 74% of the 729 tomb lots surveyed. Approximately 50% of the tombs were built before 1900, based on the first interment dates visible. However, many of the oldest appearing tombs no longer have closure tablets with legible inscriptions, so the percent of existing tombs built before 1900 is probably a much higher number.
The condition survey documented many tombs in critical need of stabilization and repair. Decades of neglect and deferred maintenance have created a situation where roofs have been breached and the stucco of the tombs has cracked, allowing easy access for damaging moisture and plants. Even in tombs without structural damage, there are many badly weathered details: cornices, crosses, statues and marble tablets where important sculpture and inscriptions are becoming lost.
All local brickwork was protected by stucco and most tombs were originally limewashed in white or earth colors. Multiple layers of both stucco and surface finish can be seen on many of the tombs representing generations of choice in both color and materials.
At the Architectural Conservation Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, analyses of these layers is made with high powered microscopes. Small chips of surface finish are cross-sectioned with a diamond-tipped blade and mounted on slides so that the historic layers of color can be magnified and analyzed. The history of the tomb can often be read through understanding the clues in each of the layers of color seen in these images.
The Save America's Treasures project on Alley 9-L is now complete and the tombscape is quite colorful as many of the historic limewash colors have been reapplied. For more information on Limewashing materials, tools and techniques, click here.
Microscopic investigation of the tombs of Alley 9-L had revealed that vivid historic colors ranged from white to tan to yellow to terracotta to rich grays. Eleven separate colors were required for the tombs of Alley 9-L, with many tombs receiving a custom colored limewash used exclusively for that tomb.
On the Lacombe tomb (#564), conservation assistant Laura Ewen found a dark rose pink color. In order to match it, she took a known quantity of lime putty, and began to work on a color 'recipe' using various inorganic pigments. Each variation was applied to the side of the tomb in a small test square.
After drying, the test patch was compared to the origninal and alterations made to the recipe for the next test patch. If the color was too cool, or looked like it had too much blue in it, a yellow pigment was added, or perhaps a different red was used to make up a new test batch.
Laura went through several variations before deciding on a formula combining iron oxide red with iron oxide orange. She then coated the tomb in 3 layers of the limewash. Since limewash is translucent, several layers deepen and enrich the color, resulting in the Lacombe rouge.
Text adapted from: Lindsay S. Hannah, Save America's Treasures, SOCGram, Jan-Feb, 2003, 6-7.
At the head of every grave was planted an iron or wooden cross some of the Iron ones were indented with the names of the lifeless tenants below. — John Pintard, Sterling, David Lee, editor. “New Orleans, 1801: An Account by John Pintard. Louisiana Historical Quarterly 34, no. 3 (July 1951).
The earliest metalworking technology in New Orleans was the hand forging of wrought iron originally brought by the French. Forging, or the forming of heated wrought iron with hammer and anvil, was used to produce the simple crosses which once embellished many of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century step tombs.
Many of the original crosses at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 have disappeared due to processes of decay or through vandalism. During the project, several new crosses have been fabricated using traditional metalworking techniques.
Conservators receive specialized education and training on the proper materials and techniques for the stabilization, repair and restoration of fragile historic resources, such as these tombs at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
Cleaning out cracks
Walnut blasting metalwork
Strapping marble tablet