VIDEO: High school interns uncover history at Green-Wood Cemetery
Ana C. Pierce was 25 years, six months and 15 days old when she died on Feb. 20, 1871 of albuminuria, a sickness that starves the bloodstream of protein and leads to kidney disease.
Pierce has since been buried in Green-Wood Cemetery. But for more than a century, her gravestone was sunken below ground, until this summer when Arthur Cambridge, 16, uncovered it and pieced her story together.
Cambridge is part of a group of eight interns from Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design and the Mather Building Arts and Craftsmanship High School who, over five weeks, learned the art of restoration and preservation in Green-Wood Cemetery as part of the Career and Technological Education internship program.
Sponsored by Green-Wood with additional funding from the World Monuments Fund and the city Department of Education, the internship aims to introduce young people to the idea of restoration and preservation as a career.
“I think the restoration is a fantastic field to be a part of, it really highlights the physical and tactile work that’s done on memorial stones, architectural objects, et cetera, but there’s also a really academic side of it as well,” said Neela Wickremesinghe, who oversaw the internship and serves as Green-Wood’s manager of Restoration and Preservation.
The class restored and stabilized 150 19th-century monuments and surfaced 47 gravestones on one of Green-Wood’s public lots, an area with small, humble stones that were the most affordable to be buried with at the turn of the century.
Through the gravestones, epitaphs and cemetery archives, each student reconstructed the story of a specific burial. Cambridge chose Pierce’s headstone, the first he uncovered, and found that the woman had lived at 146 Herkimer St. in Brooklyn, not far from where he lives now.
“I was very surprised about the age because usually, you wouldn’t expect a young type of person to be buried in the cemetery,” Cambridge said.
Uncovering stones with epitaphs in German, French and English not only gave the students physical skills in preservation, but also allowed them to reflect the history of early immigration in Brooklyn.
The program culminated in a final presentation where the students summarized their preservation work and highlighted the stories of those they discovered.