A recent guest post by Air Force veteran Jay Harden at the Veterans Administration’s VAntage Point blog brought to light some surprising information about our national cemetery system:
There is no coherent, common management of national cemeteries in this country and I, for one, cannot let that stand.
Today, our national cemeteries are managed by the Department of the Army, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Defense. They naturally do some of the same things differently, and each way (naturally) is best. Such stovepipes are unjustified and absurd to my logical mind.
There is room for significant improvement across the board. For starters, there is no common digital record system (paper record prevail), no common mapping system, no common photo data base, no standardized procedures for interment, maintenance, or military honors as far as I can tell, and no common application of precision GPS for repositioning of remains and headstones in the event of a natural disaster. The Georgia flood of 1995 did not adversely affect Andersonville National Cemetery but other local cemeteries were not so lucky. As a result the State of Georgia now requires remains (not containers) to be uniquely identified in a public registry. There is no national requirement that I know of.
We have all heard of the management issues at Arlington Cemetery. The national cemetery here in St. Augustine has been closed for years and while the grounds are always beautifully maintained, there are still many questions about the graves themselves. Some recent street repairs next to the cemetery found graves outside the cemetery walls. Who are they?
Mr. Harden suggests we learn from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the American Battle Monuments Commission who maintain the American military cemeteries outside the United States.
All cemeteries are important links to our past. Most of us have looked to our national cemeteries as models for cemetery management. It’s a shock to find this may not be the case.
White Bronze Monuments at Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah.
From the author’s collection at Flickr.
White bronze monuments are neither white nor bronze. These markers are made of zinc. Produced by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, CT, between 1874 and 1914, these unique monuments can be found throughout the country. At first glance they appear to be a detailed stone with a blue-gray cast. As you get closer, the difference becomes more obvious. Because these monuments were cast, not cut, some are quite detailed. They have stood up to the harsh environment of the coastal south. White bronze markers in the St. Augustine area have maintained their detail more than many carved marble pieces of the same age.
Nancy A. S. George monument at Evergreen Cemetery
in St. Augustine. From the author’s collection at Flickr.
One problem with white bronze monuments – especially the larger, taller monuments – is called creep. The weight of the metal causes the monument to slowly settle causing cracks and even breaks.
The Monumental Bronze Company sold the monuments through a series of subsidiaries located around the country. Markers ranged from $2 to $5,000. A catalog of standard styles – like the rounded marker in the photo above – was used by salesmen to market the product. The plates containing burial details were cast separately and bolted to the standard marker using decorative screws. The marker shown below is a larger version of the small marker above and shows the text detail.
John & Mary Reyes monument at Tolomato Cemeter
in St. Augustine. From the author’s collection at Flickr.
One would think that Florida would have been a major market for these monuments. We have no local stones suitable for carving and the cost of shipping stone monuments from Charleston had to be exorbitant. These metal monuments were much cheaper and easier to ship and would seem to be a reasonable alternative. While I do find these markers in several local cemeteries, the numbers are quite small. It appears that marketing was the toughest challenge for the company.
A detailed history of the Monumental Bronze Company can be found at the Kent County Civil War Monument restoration site. This group in Grand Rapids is working to restore a white bronze monument in a downtown park.
Thursday's tour of Huguenot Cemetery conducted by Karen Harvey (right).
Day one provided not only an education on our local historic cemeteries, but also an increasing appreciation for the efforts of Florida’s archaeology community in researching and preserving these treasures. This conference is a collaborative effort of the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) and Flagler College. Additional sponsors include the St. Augustine Archaeological Association, St. Johns County, the Menorcean Cultural Society, Historic Tours of America and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.
Chandelier and ceiling detail in the Flagler Room
at Flagler College – formerly the Ponce de Leon Hotel.
The people of FPAN have worked tirelessly to put together an impressive list of speakers combined with tours of several cemeteries lead by people who have worked to document and preserve these historic treasures. Flagler College has provided the facilities for our lectures in their student center and last night’s keynote presentation in the beautifully restored Flagler Room.
All-in-all, it has been a delightful day and I’m looking forward to the next two days.
Photos from the Huguenot Cemetery tour have been uploaded to the Huguenot Cemetery set at Flickr.
We recently enjoyed a brief visit in Savannah – an opportunity to do a bit of research and visit the cemetery where most of my Savannah Barrett ancestors are buried. I also wanted to visit the Vietnam Memorial in Emmet Park – not only because it’s a beautiful memorial but also because it was created by Oglethorpe Marble and Granite. It just so happens that they are part of my Savannah family.
A huge piece of Georgia marble sits in the middle of a reflecting pool. It has a map of Vietnam carved on its face and a pedestal at the top with an upturned rifle, empty boots, helmet and dog tags. A five-pointed star of marble embedded in the cement fans out from the pool with the insignia of each of the branches of service carved at the points. A large block of marble (shown here on the right) lists the names of the 105 area residents who were killed or missing in the war. To the east, American and POW/MIA flags fly perpetually at half-mast.
Like many military memorials, the funds to create it are donated by citizens, civic and fraternal groups and businesses. Rings of engraved bricks are also embedded in the cement to show who helped make this memorial possible. A spirit must have been guiding my feet as I walked over to get a closer look at the bricks, for when I stopped and looked down, I was surprised to find myself standing directly over a brick with my father’s name, W H Barrett, engraved on it. Actually, it should not have been so surprising. My father served in the U.S. Merchant Marine and during the Vietnam War he shuttled fuel from the Persian Gulf to Cam Rahn Bay. So, now I have an even closer attachment to this beautiful memorial.
Details: The map was carved in place from three pieces of Georgia marble with a total weight of 91 tons. An overhead photo at the Oglethorpe Marble and Granite site shows a better perspective of the carved map.
You might be asking why this Florida Rabbit is discussing a grave and monument to a New York native located in downtown New York City. Well, not only does General Worth have an historic connection to this part of the country, but there may be a family connection too.
The Seminole Wars in Florida dragged on for decades and became hugely unpopular and a political hot potato. In 1841, then Colonel Worth took command of the Florida army and in May of 1842 President Tyler decided it was time for this war to come to an end. Colonel Worth made that happen – officially. In reality, sporadic skirmishes with the Seminoles continued until the beginning of the Civil War.
Promoted to brevet brigadier general for his Florida accomplishments, Worth went on to become a hero in the Mexican-American War for his actions at Matamoros, Monterrey and Veracruz. He died in San Antonio of cholera in 1849 while commanding the Department of Texas. His popularity continued to grow after his death.
In 1857, Worth’s remains were re-interred with much pomp and ceremony in New York City at what is now known as Worth Square. Below is a copy of the commemorative booklet printed for the occasion. After his death, his widow, Margaret Stafford Worth, returned to St. Augustine where she lived until her death in 1869. She is buried in the St. Augustine National Cemetery along with her daughter, Mary Worth Sprague who died in 1876. Colonel Sprague, Mary’s husband, served as Worth’s adjutant during the Florida campaign and was the military governor of Florida during Reconstruction.
Somehow a copy of this booklet has been passed down in my family – possibly through our Worth cousins in Savannah – and was donated to our historical society by my father. General Worth had one son – who also became a general in the U.S. Army. His son had no children so we have no direct line to the general. What connection, if any, there may be through the Savannah Worths is yet to be discovered. Today it remains an intriguing mystery.
Wm J Worth Monument Commemorative Booklet 1857
- The Handbook of Texas Online. “Worth, William Jenkins“, accessed 2 November 2008.
- The Handbook of Texas Online. “Sprague, John Titcomb“, accessed 2 November 2008.
- Edward S. Wallace, General William Jenkins Worth, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1933.