Friday, April 29, 2011

Preserving Tolomato

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, a small but hardy band (below) braved the biting insects and heat at Tolomato to work on some of the decayed masonry at the cemetery. Under the instruction of John Beaty (at right), a preservation specialist from the University of Florida who is doing his doctoral work on historic masonry and materials, TCPA volunteers Matt Armstrong and Elizabeth Gessner chipped out old mortar, mixed and applied new mortar, and tried their hands at applying new render (known as stucco to most of us) to the walls of a vault.

We are standing at the back of the Papy Oliveros vault.  Notice the condition of the mortar, which is probably over 100 years old.  The protective layer of render (stucco) has fallen off and the mortar has reverted to sand in some places and fallen out of the joints.  This means that the bricks will eventually come together again and the wall will be deformed and collapse. It has happened to other brick vaults at Tolomato.

We cleaned up the mortar and repointed the bricks, using a lime and builders’ sand mortar with a pure hydrated lime purchased from a historic building materials company. Then we mixed a different mortar, using local sand from the “sterile layer” of soil, brought to us from an archaeological dig by Carl Halbirt, city archaeologist. 

You will note that most of the vaults at Tolomato are covered with a render of a beige color, and since the color of the mortar is controlled by the color of the sand, we gave some thought to where we could obtain that kind of sand. John Beaty pointed out that people prior to the 20th century generally used whatever was closest at hand, since it was difficult and uneconomical to bring in building materials from elsewhere in those pre-railroad days.  Matt gave it some thought and recalled that St Augustine’s “sterile sand” was a reddish brown in color, so we made a quick call to Carl and got a bucket of sand.  And lo and behold, the match was almost perfect. Allowing for aging and darkening from decades of staining from water runoff, we had obviously found what they used for their mortar at Tolomato.  Below is a different section of the same vault, where you can see the finished result. The dark area is the result of wetting the surface to improve the adherence of the mortar.


I’ll post more on the work that we did there. But in the meantime, Tolomato Cemetery and the TCPA owe enormous thanks to John Beaty, who spent some 20 hours over 2 days sharing his expertise with us and, of course, doing the skilled part of the work while we diligently tried to emulate it (with greater or lesser success).  But we have learned a lot, and even the work that has been done so far will ensure that this vault and the others we worked on will remain standing for many more decades than might have been possible otherwise.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Meanwhile, in New York City…

While walking up Central Park West on an Easter visit to my old home in New York City, I suddenly saw a familiar face. Peering over the back of a passing taxi was Tolomato’s own Fr. Felix Varela!

His face appeared as part of a set of reproductions of photos and paintings from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.  The museum has placed these images on the scaffolding and the construction barriers around its building, which is undergoing a major renovation and in fact is closed at the moment (it is scheduled to reopen in November, 2011).

This reminds us that Fr. Varela spent most of his career in New York City, founding parishes and working primarily among impoverished Irish immigrants in Lower Manhattan.  He was known as the “Protector of the Irish,” stepping out into the crowds during the Nativist anti-Irish riots of the 1840s.  He was long dead by the time of the infamous Draft Riots of the Civil War era, when the Irish were the ones doing the rioting and killing, but one thinks that he would probably have done everything to prevent them.

He also somehow found the time to run a pro-Cuban-independence newspaper directed at New York’s Cuban population, and these were the people who contributed to the construction of the chapel at Tolomato.

The New York Historical Society is  the oldest museum in New York City and has a remarkable collection of everything from paintings to finds from archaeological digs conducted in the city, as well a library that is a treasure trove of historical documents. 


Monday, April 18, 2011

Something New in the Varela Chapel

Last week, we had a short but impressive service in the Varela Chapel, when the pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Fr. George Ioannou, and the pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine, Fr. Tom Willis, participated in the installation of an icon given to the chapel at Tolomato Cemetery by the Greek church and the iconographer, Fernando Arango-Fernandez.  They are seen in the photo below, accompanied by a parishioner.

The icon is one known as Christ the Teacher, and it is beautiful and luminous.   It was placed on the wall on the north side of the altar, which is the 19th-20th century replica of the altar in Cuba where Fr. Varela celebrated his first mass. You’ll notice the holes and stains on the wall; these are from the time when Fr. Varela’s ledger stone had been attached to that wall, after his bones had been removed from the crypt and sent to Cuba. 


The icon reminds us of the numerous Greeks and Greek descendants who are buried at Tolomato Cemetery. The original band of weary settlers known as the Minorcans, who had been brought to Florida to work on an indigo plantation, were actually a pan-Mediterranean group that included not only people from the island of Minorca, but Sardinians, Sicilians and other Italians, and Greeks from two different parts of Greece.  The Greeks were fleeing not only poverty, but the Turkish invaders. The Turks forbade them to take any of their priests with them, so they were served by the Minorcan Catholic priest, Fr. Pedro Camps, and were part of that community.


We will install the traditional icon lamp for it soon so that it will be more visible from the door of the chapel.   Visitors to the cemetery on Saturday, our monthly open day, were very impressed by the icon and wanted to know its story and the story of the Greeks at Tolomato.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Descendants…Cleaning the SSJ Marker

In the world of cemeteries, “descendants” are, naturally, people descended from other people buried in the cemetery. Often they are interested in the graves of their ancestors and will take a major role in restoring the cemeteries where they are buried.

Here we see a slightly unusual descendant:  Sister Thomas Joseph McGoldrick, SSJ (Sisters of St Joseph), cleaning a marker dedicated to two of the original French sisters who founded the order here in St Augustine in 1866.


The marker commemorates Sister Louis Joseph and Sister Julie Clotilde, both of whom died in 1868. The SSJ had been brought here in 1866 from Le Puy, France, by our first bishop, Bp. Agustin Verot (who was also from Le Puy) to dedicate themselves to the education of the children of the recently emancipated African Americans.   They ran a free school for the latter children which they funded with a “finishing school” for well-off girls from the Northeast and Cuba, and eventually went on to set up a parochial school system that covered all of Florida.

Sister Louis Joseph (also known as Marie Joseph) was the first of the SSJ to die in the New World, and her funeral procession was led by black women mourners, who reminded the other mourners that the SSJ had come here to work with the African American residents of St Augustine and therefore it was most fitting for the black women to lead the procession.  This was quite radical in the strife-torn Reconstruction South.


Above, Lin Masley and Elizabeth Gessner pour water on the stone, wetting it down before Sister Thomas Joseph goes to work on it with her bottle of D/2 solution and her brush.  Getting water at the cemetery is a problem but fortunately the neighbors let us run a hose to their well, so we are able to get enough water to do projects like this.  

Below we see the cleaned marker, which has just dried and will lighten over the next few days. The marker is heavily stained because it is under an oak tree, and the acidic water and sap running off the tree are destructive to stone. The D/2 will discourage biological growth for the next year or so and will assist in protecting the stone from the destructive effects of the tree under which it is located.

SSJ Marker

Friday, April 8, 2011

Admiring the NCPTT Handiwork

Taking advantage of the good weather, the TCPA held its monthly board meeting at Tolomato on Thursday so that all the members could see the work done by the NCPTT workshop participants.

Board member Nick McAuliffe took these photos of the board members not only admiring the work but trying some on their own.  Here Sarah Miller, who attended the workshop, wets one of the limewashed vaults so that another coat of limewash can be applied.


Below, Tom Caswell and Janet Jordan, watched at a safe distance by board members who wanted to avoid getting limewashed, apply another coat to one of the vaults.  Limewash actually is very easy to apply, it washes out of clothing (and hair) very easily, it’s odorless and non-toxic. What more could you want?  Of course, it does wear off and have to be reapplied every year or two, but if you just pick a pleasant day and redo it every now and then, it’s a painless process.


We also had time to examine the exciting preservation materials we learned about from the NCPTT workshop and intend to put together a plan for working on the other monuments that are seriously in need of help.  This was definitely one of the most enjoyable board meetings we have had!


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Preserving Tolomato–Stone by Stone

Tolomato Cemetery was lucky enough to be chosen to host an NCPTT (National Center for Preservation Technology and Training) workshop this weekend.  I say “fortunate” because we emerged with a total of two vaults newly limewashed, four markers cleaned, one marker patched, one marker that had been broken and lying on the ground now completely repaired, one marker straightened, and bricks repointed on two different vaults.  Quite a total for only a day and a half of work!


Jason Church (above) and Sarah Jackson (below) led the workshops, attended by 17 people ranging from preservation students to professionals already in the field to cemetery managers.  It was a hands-on workshop, and several TCPA members were able to participate as well. 


Over the next few days, I’ll post photos of the different markers and vaults that were the focus of the work. But in the meantime, maybe I’ll just go out to the cemetery again and admire the fantastic job done by the NCPTT staff and their great workshop participants!