Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cemetery Restoration

I was very pleased to see the interest expressed by the Patuxent River Naval Air Station newspaper, The Tester, in the restoration work that Scott and I have been doing at St. Nicholas cemetery. This is a monumental job (aren't puns fun?) and the potential is great for conducting community research. The kinds of monuments purchased by survivors, the placement of graves, and..of course...the inscriptions can reveal the social structure of the Patuxent River community from circa 1800 to 1942. We have the opportunity to examine epidemics and pandemics (e.g., the Spanish influenza that killed millions worldwide at the end of WWI), race relations, distribution of wealth, aesthetics, religion, and many other manifestations of culture that make us who we are.

The first and most important jobs on these kinds of projects (and the later cemetery at Port Tobacco is one such project) are recovery, repair, and re-erection of the monuments. The Port Tobacco Archaeological Project is largely about research, but discovery brings with it the responsibility of preservation (maintaining in perpetuity). Rather than pit research and discovery against preservation (the two processes can be at odds with one another), we think in terms of conservation, or the wise use of resources, rather than preservation. We need to make sure that we balance current research interests and needs with long-term research needs and public access.

For the later cemetery at Port Tobacco, like that at St. Nicholas, we can collect information that is integral to our larger research and interpretive goals for the town, but among our principal responsibilities must always be the intelligent conservation of the monuments and the remains they mark, and the respectful study of the lives the markers commemorate. The people of Port Tobacco have descendents interested in revisiting the graves of their forebears, and it is very likely that the Port Tobacco Archaeological Team will also have descendents, of a sort, interested in revisiting, and reinterpreting, the relics that we have uncovered.


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