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PRO Team Field Notes: Mission Critical

In January the Preservation, Restoration, and Operations (PRO) Team completed the first wave of 2018’s critical restoration. Critical restoration’s goal is to identify fragile, dangerous, or visually intrusive monuments and walls and mitigate the problem before they cause harm or break. Our projects ranged from tab-in-socket headstones to a 20-foot-tall obelisk that broke during Hurricane Irma.

Tab-in-socket headstones are often small and may seem insignificant. However, the stress on the point where the headstone inserts into the socketed base can be very great when the stone begins to sink and lean over time. If left untreated, these headstones will often break in a way that is difficult to repair. To prevent this, we first carefully removed the headstone without putting pressure on the joint. We laid the stone on its side, stabilizing it against a padded object. Next, we removed the base and leveled the soil beneath it. We add a thin layer of rough gravel to facilitate drainage and place the base back in the ground, ensuring it remains level. Next, we lined the socket with lime mortar to help the headstone sit firmly inside. The headstone is then placed carefully back into the socket and more lime mortar is added to fill in the gaps between stone elements. Once the mortar has partly dried, it is brushed to create a clean edge.

A leaning tab-in-socket headstone before repair in Block 43, Lot 3 of the cemetery.
Tab-in-socket headstone after repair.

To repair the large obelisk, three stories of scaffolding were first set up with an aluminum I-beam and trolley at the top. The PRO Team hoisted the broken pieces of the obelisk’s shaft with nylon straps and a 1-ton chain hoist on top of one another. Pieces of colored wax were placed between the pieces to mark where holes would be drilled. Using masonry drill bits, four holes were drilled into each broken end, and the holes were thoroughly cleaned out with an air compressor. Three-eighth inch stainless steel rods and masons’ epoxy were inserted into the holes. Then we fitted the pieces back together one at a time, with ample time for each layer to “set up.” The urn that was broken off the top of the obelisk was repaired off-site and returned to the top of the monument, where we secured it with a smaller stainless steel rods and epoxy.

This spring or summer, the PRO Team will focus on a second round of critical restoration, concentrating on walls and box tombs.

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