Contributed by Alice French, Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Menokin Foundation.
What better place to hang out in October than in a cemetery. The Menokin Foundation recently hosted a two day Cemetery Conservation workshop at Menokin Baptist Church in Warsaw, VA. Experts in the field of conservation from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources came out and shared their knowledge of best practices for maintaining, cleaning and documenting stones. It was quite an elucidating experience.
We spent most of our first day in the “classroom” learning about cemetery research and recordation, state laws, archaeology and iconography.
Day two was was our “field day” in the cemetery adjacent to Menokin Baptist Church. In addition to studying the iconography on the stones there and learning how to best document and
preserve what remains, there was also clearly noted instruction on the many things NOT to do to a tombstone. Surprise. Most of us were offenders in one way or another.
The main thing I learned is that there is generally very little you can do to forever protect all of the stones in a cemetery. But it is best to try to keep them clear of roots and tree limbs and free of other natural debris. And the ONLY thing you should attempt to clean your stone with is a little bit of ionized water, which luckily for us rural dwellers, is readily available in your local farm supply store. Putting shaving cream and other chemicals may temporarily clean up your stone, but in the long run will hasten its deterioration.
The real key to preserving your site is documentation. Take good photos of what is there. Try to photograph stones to be able to read the text. Then record the information in as many places as you can. DHR has a standard form you can use to gather the most significant information. Also, share your information with other genealogy sites and the church (if your cemetery is associated with one).
This tombstone marks the grave of Richard Harwood and his wife Mary, who died 3 days after him. Inscribed on the stone is this epitaph “They were lovely in their lives and in death were not divided”. The Harwoods owned Menokin during the mid-19th century. Mr. Harwood became a Baptist and deeded land to the Menokin Baptist Church in 1837 for the construction of the church.
The obelisk form is known as a monument. The stone displays many forms of iconography and a lot of the delicate carvings are wearing away, including some morning glories which represent the Resurrection. The urn at the top symbolizes the soul.
For more information about resources about cemetery conservation, please contact the Menokin Foundation at email@example.com. We’ll be happy to guide you in the right direction.
I was visiting Colonial Williamsburg for Family Weekend at the College of William and Mary, and on our meander down Duke of Gloucester Street we went into Bruton Parish Church.
My daughter and I found this wonderful tribute to the members of the Virginia House of Burgesses, and were delighted to find our very own Francis Lightfoot Lee and his brother, Richard Henry Lee, on a pew door in the Burgesses section of the church.
To all of our friends far and near, please support Menokin during The Amazing Raise. The non-profit with gifts from the most states wins a $1000 bonus prize.
Tap the link to go directly to Menokin’s donation screen on The Community Foundation’s website.
Sometime in the late 1960s, Menokin’s owner Edgar Omohundro removed all of the interior paneling from the house in an effort to save it from destruction, theft and vandalism. Since that time, this exquisite woodwork, hand-carved from long-leaf pine, has made a remarkable journey and has a fascinating story to tell.
After being stored for a time in a shed belonging to Mr. Omohundro, the woodwork eventually came under the stewardship of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) and was moved to a barn at Bacon’s Castle in Surry County for safekeeping.
In 1996, Menokin’s dining room woodwork was treated, cleaned and installed on long-term loan at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) as part of The Story of Virginia exhibit. Detailed drawings of each piece were created, along with measurements and notes about condition.
The relationship between VHS and Menokin has remained strong over the decades. Menokin has had the privilege of hosting several lectures and events in their Richmond facility and its exposure to a large number of visitors through the Story of Virginia exhibit has been invaluable in bringing the Foundation’s story to a larger audience.
In 2012, the VHS began making plans to redesign its exhibit. Menokin was notified that if we desired a return of the loaned paneling, now was the time to begin that process. The decision was made to bring the Dining Room home to the Martin Kirwan King Visitors Center.
The intrepid Menokin “Staff of Ladies”, bolstered by a group of tireless volunteers, shifted furniture, ordered, installed and built shelving, and rearranged the current collection, making room for the returning paneling.
And on a stormy day in February of 2014, the Dining Room woodwork came home to Menokin.
The entire woodwork collection is now together once again at the Visitors Center. Some pieces are earmarked for an eventual return to the house. These remarkable artifacts are available for everyone to learn from and enjoy.
The window in my office frames a beautiful view of Menokin. The native plants and shrubs around the visitor’s center bring me a constant and varied cast of feathered guests.
There are the regulars – Eastern bluebirds, goldfinches, hummingbirds, vireos. I more than occasionally spot wild turkeys and bald eagles grazing and hunting in the fields beyond the yard. Some rarer appearances have been made by migrating songbirds – scarlet and summer tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks and orioles.
What I don’t see – and this may come as a surprise to you – are pigeons. We just don’t have them in these parts. Doves, yes. Pigeons, not so much.
So imagine my surprise when a movement outside my window caught my eye recently and I looked out to see a pigeon pecking in the mulch under my window.
“Odd,” I thought. “That looks like a pigeon.”
Just then, a board member, stopping in for a meeting, came through the front door and asked if we were keeping pigeons as pets. “There’s a tagged pigeon wandering around right outside,” he said. “Does he belong to one of you?”
And, because of the aforementioned scarcity of pigeons, and the fact that we are The Intrepid Menokin Ladies, we leapt into action. Well, Mavora did. After heading outside to see the pigeon for herself, she made a call to a local wildlife rescue service to report in.
“Oh, that’s probably a racing pigeon,” she was informed. “They’re very used to being around people. Just take a box outside and he’ll walk right into it. Then bring him to us and we’ll take it from there.”
Wrong. The pigeon, while not apparently alarmed by our proximity (by this time, I had joined the adventure), kept a healthy and stealthy distance from any semblance of cardboard and/or would-be captors. At one point he even flew up onto the barn roof, alleviating our fears that perhaps he was injured.
We ditched the box idea and came back inside. By now it had been a few hours since the discovery of the pigeon’s arrival and we figured he was probably hungry and thirsty. We grabbed a box of Cream of Wheat and filled a bowl of water and went out to tend our flock of one. After hunting around we finally found him roosting in the lean-to on some of the large dress stones from the house (it must be a pigeon thing). He seemed mildly annoyed that we had discovered his hideout, but did allow Mavora to eventually get close enough to read the letters and numbers on the tag on his leg.
Leaving him to his meal we went back inside and did what all ingenious preservationists and conservationists do – we googled “Lost Racing Pigeons.” Bingo. Up came the website with all kinds of information about racing pigeons. I garnered a brief but thorough educational insight into the sport, then wrote down the phone number and gave it a call.
I don’t know why I expected the person who answered to be amazed that we had a misplaced racing pigeon. She wasn’t. It was probably her 168th missing pigeon report of the day. Upon entering our pigeon’s tag information into her database, she was able to tell us (in a voice reserved for reading the ingredients on a Cream of Wheat box) where the pigeon was from (Maryland), which club he belonged to, and the name and phone number of the club’s president.
I was in awe that there is a whole PIGEON NETWORK out there, flying all around us, that I had never been aware of until then. It inspired me to go outside and sit with the pigeon, who continued to keep a safe distance, and tell him all about Menokin and the Northern Neck.
After awhile he fell asleep and I went home. The next day he was gone. We never got a call back from the club president. It was probably his 168th “we have your pigeon message” of the week. We are certain that our pigeon made his way back to Maryland and told all of the other racing pigeons about the crazy ladies at his last stop who chased him with a box and fed him breakfast cereal. All that fuss over a pigeon?
Earlier in the year, while attending a VAM (Virginia Association of Museums) conference in Alexandria, I happened to attend a session led by two folks from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Encyclopedia Virginia (EV) Project.
Matthew Gibson, Director of Digital Initiatives and Editor of EV, and Peter Hedlund, Programmer for EV, were helping non-profits identify free, reasonably priced and accessible digital resources to use in their communications platform. Toward the end of the session, they presented their recent affiliation with Google Street View. It seems that they had received training and licensing from Google to compile virtual tours of historic venues and they were asking for interesting places to visit and shoot.
After bull-dozing my way through the crowd that gathered around them after their session, I managed to wave a business card within eye shot and said “You might be interested in Menokin for a Google Street View venue.” Bazinga. It was as if the fates had planned the whole thing.
“Menokin!” Peter shouted to Matthew. (Or maybe Matthew shouted to Peter.) “She’s from Menokin!”
I felt fairly confident that they were interested.
They were, and in late spring they journeyed to our little corner of the Northern Neck to capture the footage. I got to learn the Google Dance, which involves constantly moving in a circle to keep out of the view of the camera. We canvassed the entire property including the ruin, the trails, the Visitors Center and the Conservation Barn.
The result is a comprehensive 360 degree look at each floor of the house, as well as a view of the landing at Cat Point Creek, a tour of the Historic Woodwork Collection at the Visitors Center, and a trip inside the Conservation Barn to view the structural timbers and building stones that were excavated from the site.
Anyone who Googles “Menokin” will see a link to the virtual tour. So if you’re an armchair tourist and would like to see Menokin from the comfort of your home, here’s your chance. Or if you’re planning a visit (and we hope you are), take a look around before you get here.