Town charts course for Old Burial Hill restoration

Old Burial Hill is set for a restoration after a comprehensive survey revealed deteriorating and damaged monuments, grave markers and tombs.

The assessment by monument conservator Ivan Myjer from Building and Monument Conservation pinpointed 17 headstones, five footstones and 166 grave markers across the storied burial ground that require attention. Myjer’s survey suggests nearly $75,000 worth of restoration and conservation work.

The immediate focus will center on the Lost at Sea monument, colloquially known as the Fishermen’s Monument, Gen. John Glover’s tomb and about 10 other grave markers, Town Planner Becky Cutting said.

“We received a grant to do the initial master plan, then a grant for the priority-one markers that were identified from the Massachusetts Historical Commission Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund grant program,” Cutting said. “We also plan to look for some others.”

The iconic ‘Lost at Sea’ monument pays homage to the fishermen lost in the tragic Great Gale of 1846, and awaits restoration amidst the worn and weathered markers of Marblehead’s historic burial site. CURRENT PHOTOS / WILLIAM J. DOWD

Budgets earmarked for restoration include approximately $11,000 to $13,000 for the Fishermen’s Monument, about $10,000 for 10 other headstones and an estimated $3,500 to $4,500 for Glover’s Tomb. Cutting said the good news is that the initial funding for restorations is in place, thanks to the efforts of the Old Burial Hill Oversight Committee.

“The committee has requested that Myjer and the subcontractors who will work on the stones and monument complete eight or nine markers with the money available,” said Pam Peterson, a member of the oversight committee and chair of the Marblehead Historical Commission. “The Lost at Sea monument will be funded by the Historical Commission, and the tabletop tomb of General John Glover will be funded by Glover’s Regiment.”

The monument is a poignant reminder of the 65 fishermen tragically lost in the Great Gale of 1846.

“The anniversary of the Great Gale is Sept. 19, and it is unlikely that the conservation and restoration of the Lost at Sea monument would be completed by then,” said Peterson. “But when the work is completed, the commission and the Old Burial Hill Oversight Committee would like to commemorate the work and make everyone aware of the importance of preserving these monuments and markers of our past.”

For the monument, the assessment plan calls for the following corrective measures:

  • Clean the monument to remove biological growths.
  • Remove failing sealants.
  • Re-point open joints with a soft lime mortar.
  • Grout gaps where slabs are let into horizontal units with a soft lime mortar.
  • Repair losses at the top of the band with a hydraulic lime-based repair mortar.
  • Grout all cracks and fissures with a soft lime mortar.
The tabletop of Gen. John Glover’s tomb at Old Burial Hill awaits restoration.

Years of exposure to the elements, potential vandalism and other factors have contributed to the site’s wear and tear. Various footstones, particularly the smaller slate and marble variants, are obscured by tall grass or have tilted, requiring a reset. Others are embedded so low in the ground they’re susceptible to inadvertent damage during routine maintenance. The uneven terrain, marked by slopes and mounds, presents challenges. Some markers have been observed to sink deeper when the frozen ground thaws.

Capt. Seamus Daly of the regiment gave a hearty endorsement of the restoration project.

“While we’re prepared to assist in the restoration of General Glover’s tomb, the modalities are still being decided,” he said. “Engaging with the town is a priority.”

Daly added, “Glover’s recognizes that the state of Glover’s tomb isn’t markedly different from many other markers of historical significance in Burial Hill. Given how these markers age in an especially tough marine environment, the regiment recognizes that their state, including that of Glover’s tomb, is part of that inevitable aging process.”

The Old Burial Hill conservation report was made available to the Marblehead Historical Commission.

“The conservation of the Lost at Sea monument on Old Burial Hill was proposed,” said Peterson. “The commissioners enthusiastically voted unanimously in favor of funding the project in the amount of $10,500.”

Fundraising for additional conservation of gravestones and markers will begin in the fall, with the plan to raise funds to complete additional work in spring and summer 2024.

Historic grave markers stand weathered and worn at Old Burial Hill in Marblehead, highlighting the urgent need for restoration.

“We are going to kick it off in September and are planning now and identifying organizations,” said Cutting. “We just received a $5,000 donation.”

When asked about an endpoint for the entire restoration, Cutting remarked on its continuity.

“It is ongoing,” said Cutting. “The town is doing some tree trimming there, which is very important in an old burial [ground]; it is one of the most common ways that stones get damaged.”

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