Eternally Green: Preservation in Action

June 13, 2012
Preservation staff moving a monument into place

Preservation staff moving a monument into place

As many of  Mount Auburn’s seasoned visitors can attest, the colder months bring their own unique beauty to the Cemetery’s picturesque landscape; but the cold makes it just about impossible for many of our skilled craftsmen to work outdoors.  Some of these craftsmen work in the Preservation Department, where they work year-round on conservation projects.  This work is made possible by the use of an indoor workshop during the fall and winter months.With the advent of warmer weather, preservation staff can finally take projects worked on all winter in the workshop out onto the grounds.  It is during these warmer months that visitors to the Cemetery are likely to see Mount Auburn’s preservation staff in action, re-setting monuments, washing them and, amongst other tasks, assessing changes that occurred during the harsh weather of the past winter.

This time of year also naturally highlights the most commonly found feature on the Cemetery’s grounds- monuments!  The Cemetery’s landscape includes both horticulture and structures, creating a site of serenity and inspiration.  The structures are essential to Mount Auburn’s overall richness, diversity and interpretive value and, most importantly, they are invaluable for their association with those individuals buried at Mount Auburn. The maintenance and care of these structures is of paramount importance in realizing Mount Auburn’s mission as a place of comfort and inspiration.  Visitors often comment on the varying condition of monuments and structures and inquire about the measures Mount Auburn takes to preserve these important features of the landscape.  Conservation issues are complex and it is often difficult to arrive at a solution that will extend the life of the monument while not harming the material.  As mentioned in a previous article about the effects of acid rain on monuments, stone degrades over time and Mount Auburn’s Preservation Department has found that there is no easy solution to arrest the decay of a stone memorial.

Care Contracts

Considering the immense collection of monuments and built structures within the Cemetery, the Preservation Department must prioritize its work. Part of what helps determine conservation efforts are Perpetual Care Contracts.  Traditionally, these care contracts require washing, resetting, and keeping the structure plumb on a routine basis.  The Cemetery has entered into care contracts with families that cover less than half of the over 44,000 monuments and structures on our grounds.  This means that more than 22,000 monuments do not receive any care.  In these instances, each monument’s historic patina from wear and weathering truly adds to the historic character and artistic beauty of the Cemetery.  However, after more than 180 years of use and exposure to weather, Mount Auburn’s structures are increasingly in need of professional care. The obligation to maintain and preserve our structures has been recognized as an essential part of the Cemetery’s mission.

Monument Care

Preservation staff washing a monument by hand

Preservation staff washing a monument by hand

With routine cyclical care we extend the life of a memorial as much as possible without harming the material.  For monuments that are covered by care contracts, the obligations of these contracts are met by the utilization of a continual washing cycle of every 4-6 years and by re-setting monuments (which involves re-pointing the monument and rebuilding or pouring a new foundation), when necessary, by specially trained preservation staff members.  Marble monuments are washed by hand using an anti-microbial solution that kills moss and lichens without harming the delicate stone.  Granite monuments are pressure washed.  Methods for washing other types of stone are determined on a case by case basis.  The goal of washing the monument is to clean the stone as much as possible while preventing damage that can be caused by overaggressive cleaning.  In order to ensure that this process is  both done correctly and is up to industry standards, we do not permit washing of stones by lot owners.  Stones that are not currently covered by a care contract are not washed unless a paid request is made; therefore, varying levels of monument cleanliness will be found throughout the Cemetery.  Additionally, monuments that are washed may vary in their level of cleanliness depending the wash cycle and the location and condition of the stone.

Preservation In Action

Monument undergoing preservation work

Monument undergoing preservation work

Visitors also tend to notice various colored flags dispersed throughout the grounds.  Each department in the Cemetery uses specific colors on the grounds (be it a flag or tarp) to help identify ongoing projects.  The Preservation Department uses green to indicate their ongoing projects.  While walking the grounds, it is common to find green flags next to monuments that need attention, green tarps around monuments that need to be protected until conservation work is complete, and green tape to indicate that ongoing preservation work is occurring in a large area.  If you are interested in learning more about Mount Auburn’s Preservation Department and the techniques that they use, keep checking back for summer dates that will feature ‘Preservation in Action” where visitors will have the chance to interact with preservation staff while they are working on projects in the field!

Preserving Our Collections

It is important to remember that Mount Auburn is the steward of a large and important collection of tombs, monuments and gravestones, but with fewer than 50% of the collection being maintained under perpetual care contracts, contributions to fund preservation work are necessary in order to care for memorials of importance that are not under care contracts.  This remarkable landscape is home to a stunning collection of structures ranging from chapels to monuments to wrought-iron fences that serve not only as memorials to those who have died but as integral parts of our nation’s history. This is a legacy in which we all can take pride.  The work of stewardship is costly and ongoing, requiring talented staff as well as visiting consultants.  By supporting the Preservation Endowment Fund, you will help ensure that future generations will experience the Cemetery’s unique collection of architecture, monuments and historical collections.  For further information about making a gift, please contact Jane Carroll, Vice President of Development at

For pricing and more information about having a monument washed, please contact Lisa Corbett at

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