Bodie Cemetery Gets New Life

By Donna Jones (article from Bodie Times, Spring 2011)

At long last, the project to conserve grave markers in the Bodie cemeteries got underway in early September, 2010. Jablonski Building Conservation, an experienced and highly trained team of conservators, arrived to assess the various stone grave markers. By late October, a total of 28 stone grave markers were straightened, reset and conserved.

Bodie’s cemeteries overlook the townsite. The original cemetery was on waterlogged flatlands and was relocated to the present site in the 1870’s. Professional conservators are straightening and restoring some of the grave markers.

This company has worked in historic cemeteries across the USA and the conservators are formally trained in the science and art of stone conservation.

Small cracks in the mid-base of the L.H. Arrild monument are carefully refilled.

The conservators were surprised and delighted at the overall good condition of the surfaces of the stones. They commented that the carving still looked fresh and the stones were all legible, whereas many of the stones in cemeteries in the eastern U.S. are illegible due to acid rain and biological growth. Bodie’s climate has prevented damaging biological growth; many of the marble stones still have highly polished surfaces, more than a century after their placement. 

The conservation process was fascinating to watch, with many discoveries along the way.

Iron pins that once held the stones together had rusted and split some of the stones. This wasn’t a surprise, but removing them was a slow process, with gentle methods to avoid further splitting the stones and meticulous work with dental picks to remove debris in the holes. 

After removing stains and realigning parts, special grouts, mortars, adhesives and small tools were used for patching and filling small cracks that all but disappeared when completed.

Replacing the rusting, expanding iron pins with more stable stainless steel, and filling the tiny cracks and large losses to prevent the freeze-thaw cycle from continuing to shatter the markers, will help preserve these markers for many more years.

Discovering the partial remains of a brick wall around the Annie C. Fouke marker was a surprise and led to a different final appearance for the plot.

The Fouke marker is one of two very unusual stone monuments, carved to resemble natural rock outcroppings. The Perry marker is the second, and both were made circa 1896. 

So far, no one has claimed to have seen a similar style in any other cemeteries. Both the Fouke and Perry monuments are single, massive stones, unlike the more typical stack of several blocks with smooth sides. 

The unusual shape and size made resetting the Fouke stone, which had tilted, silted in and sunk in about six inches, a bit more challenging.

A badly fragmented grave marker for … G. Stebbins spent many years propped up on the ground in the Masonic section.

Two small fragments had been carefully curated and stored. They’ve now been successfully reassembled with the other three, larger parts on their original base. 

A large missing area will be replaced next year; a marble sculptor will carve a near-match fragment, to restore the name to “Solomon G. Stebbins”. For the first time in several decades, it is once again upright.

Extensive soil erosion and intrusion of plants shifted many grave markers out of their original positions. Sage trunks four to five inches in diameter had managed to slowly push several markers out of plane. Others were sitting loosely on the surface. 

Additionally, paths that cut across graves have accelerated the loss of soil. Redirecting those paths will be part a future phase of this project. 

A cemetery management plan is being finalized that will help guide future decisions about many issues, including the collapsed and deteriorated wooden fences.

There were many more grave markers righted, reset and repaired, too many to mention in this article. Another 22 await restoration. Much work remains to be done, and we are planning now to continue it in 2011.

On your next visit to Bodie, please take the time to visit the cemeteries again. I hope that the changes will be obvious but subtle; we hope especially that the families will be pleased about the care provided for the resting places of their loved ones. A “thank you” to California voters who passed Proposition 84 a few years ago. Those bond funds have allowed this long overdue work to be done.  

Jennifer Kearney, Helen Haney-Thomas and Rebecca Brown reset Annie C. Fouke’s grave marker.