PRO Team Field Notes: At Oakland, We’re All About that “Base”
The most common material we use at Oakland Cemetery is… Concrete?!
In the world of cemetery preservation, the use of Portland cement, the main component in concrete mixes, is considered taboo, and with good reason. Many historic headstones have been damaged beyond help because of the use of cement in repairs and resetting. It used to be common practice to set tombstones in a pool of wet cement. The well-intentioned persons who did this were confident that the stone would then stick straight up out of the ground forever. And this was often the case… for the bottom half of the stone. But as the ground shifted and pressure built over time, those headstones often snapped in half. Unfortunately, they were then impossible to repair because the bottom half was embedded in inches of concrete. Concrete is tough to remove from stone, and it’s nearly impossible to do so without damage.
At Oakland, we avoid damaging practices like these. However, we do use concrete on a weekly basis for something else: building new bases, also known as “footers”. Historically, when large monuments were placed over a new grave they were often simply set on the soil or on stacked brick and rubble. Over time as grave shafts collapsed or erosion occurred, these monuments would begin to lean. Sometimes, the lean is insignificant. Other times the monument becomes a critical concern because the more severe the lean, the harder gravity is working to bring the monument down. A leaning monument is a hazard to visitors. That is why the PRO Team has a policy for large monuments that will ensure that such a lean is unlikely to reoccur any time soon:
Over the course of an average year, the PRO Team uses about 500 bags of concrete.
Every monument that requires more than manpower alone to re-set requires a new spread footer. A spread footer is wider than the base of the monument and therefore distributes the weight over a greater area, reducing its tendency to shift. The larger the monument, the deeper the concrete pad. We wait at least 24 hours to re-set a monument on the new base, ensuring that the stone doesn’t stick.
Over the course of an average year, the PRO Team uses about 500 bags of concrete. That’s enough for a 100-foot sidewalk! You could say that at Oakland, we’re all about that “base”.
Projects like building new bases for large monuments are complex, time-consuming, and can become expensive, but they are necessary if we are to retain the historic character of Oakland Cemetery. Please help the PRO Team by donating to our critical restoration fund.