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Stone. It’s been around a long time. Although we tend to think of stone as eternal (hence its use as gravestones), it does erode – check out the Grand Canyon. Oddly, it is the softest of God’s creations that breaks down the hardest: water and sunlight. It may take a while but all things circulate. As caretakers of a graveyard and its gravestones, we see and deal with the phenomenon of erosion all the time. Hot and cold; expansion and contraction. Polished surfaces erode and tiny veins in the stone become cracks.
Fortunately, stone markers can be repaired if you have some skilled craftsmen around, as we did with the National Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center team. Our 165 Latrobe Monuments, often called cenotaphs, are made of a sedimentary rock formed of tiny grains of sand laid down in beds or layers, called sandstone. The sandstone quarried by the builders of Washington’s grand edifices came from Aquia Creek, which if it had been left to harden a few more million years would have made a fine stone to build with. As is, however, it is a soft stone prone to erosion, cracking, and delamination.
One method of repairing stone memorials is to remove the offending blemish and insert a new piece of stone, called a ‘Dutchman.’ Obviously, removing the original material is irreversible, so the decision to make a Dutchman repair should not be made lightly. And if you value the objects, a professional mason should be called upon to do the work.
Finding a suitable matching stone is the first problem – every piece of stone is unique. Fortunately for us, sandstone salvaged from the U.S. Capitol has been made available for repairs and replacements of our Latrobe Monuments. As seen in the accompanying photographs, the flawed section of the original stone is removed and the edges of the cut-out are honed smooth. Straight line seams between old and new stone may give way under pressure in the future, so the cut-out and inserts are carved into other-than-right angled shapes to protect the seam.
The replacement pieces are cut over-sized and then carefully carved and shaved to fit the cut-out. An extremely tight fit is required to forestall the encroachment of water into the seam, which could quickly destroy the repairs. When complete, the Dutchman is easily visible to the eye but undetectable to the touch. With repairs, we can help the monument last for a long time.
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