Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Damage to Gravestones

Isaac WHEELER, Sr.
Originally uploaded by midgefrazel
Here in New England we see many ancient stones, that while readable today may not survive much longer.

I have long wondered about this group of gravestones that are thick and made of brownstone/sandstone. It is not known when they were placed here or by whom. Fred Burdick, town historian for Stonington, CT has photographed, researched and created a CD of this graveyard and many other ancient places of burial in Stonington, CT.

(We know that this graveyard was recorded by Grace Denison Wheeler in or around 1903 because there is a list of gravestones and graveyards in her book, Old Homes in Stonington. Grace was my third cousin, twice removed and a genealogist and town historian.)

I have long wondered about the white "stuff" rising from the ground onto stones like this one. Louis S. Schafer's book, Tombstones of Your Ancestors, written in 1991, mentions the reason for this on page 3. It is part of the process of damage to stones from the water beneath the ground.

"...rising dampness from the earth pushes moisture into the porous stone, much like water soaking into a sponge. Capillary like action of water moving into rock brings with it soluble salts from the earth. When abrasive salt solution begins to crystallize within the open pores, it leaves behinf a white efforescent film on the stone surface. This encrustation will inevitably promote rotting from the inside out, eventually breaking away noticeable chunks.  This process is known as spalling..."

Gaylord Cooper's book, Stories told in Stone, also mentions this term but doesn't tell us what the whiteish material could be. Probably this stone is still intact because it is so thick. Since Isaac WHEELER, Sr. died in 1712, this ancient gravestone (or so we think) is not damaged on the surface. Well, not yet at least.

This gravestone is in the Whitehall burying ground in Mystic, CT which is part of Stonington in New London, CT. Isaac Wheeler, Sr. is one of my 7th great grandfathers.


Heather Rojo said...

This is just a guess-- we have well water, which tasts fine but leaves a white film on things like the shower nozzle or the clay pots with plants. The white spots are calcium and magnesium, which is a naturally substance in the water. A filter on the kitchen tap keeps the white floaties out of the drinking water, which is just cosmetic because it is perfectly fine to drink. I would suspect that this might be what is leaching up through these porous stones. Harmless to drink, but causing the spalling on the stones over much time. I hope my kidneys don't suffer spalling over time!

Midge Frazel said...

I have a coffeepot, which has a filter, which is not filtering out the "white stuff". I hope I am not "spalling" either.

Dave Graves said...

I hope that the families sue the idiots who desecrated these gravestones