Restoration of W.R.W. Cobb's Marble Obelisk
Cobb Cemetery - Madison County, Alabama – September 21, 2004
Work Performed by Sparkman Monument Company
The restoration of this Reconstruction era grave marker was made possible through the monetary generosity of the following Cobb family descendants: Dennis Amos, York, SC; James Bell, New Market, AL; Wayne Cobb, Hamilton, AL; Don Glover, Pleasant Grove, AL; Donnie and Betty Huggins, Arab, AL; Larry Maples, Cookeville, TN; Ollie Rivers, San Antonio, Texas; and Lou Sams, Meridianville, AL.
A startlingly beautiful blue sky and brilliant sunshine accompanied us on this gorgeous Fall day at Cobb Cemetery. Though the cotton had not yet been harvested, we were able to access the cemetery easily along the farmer’s road leading down by the creek. Fortunately, the road was very dry, remarkably so, considering Hurricane Ivan’s leftovers had visited our area a few days prior. (Mr. Sparkman’s truck did get stuck on the way out when he slid into the mud.) Overall, we were blessed with perfect weather for this venture.
I arrived about 8:40 a.m. Monte Sparkman and his employee had begun their work at 7:30 a.m. I stayed with them until they completed the job around 12:45 p.m., and I must say they earned every bit of the $500.00 that they charged to do the job! John Rankin, the local historian/genealogist that has generously assisted us with his time, labor and knowledge during each step of the cemetery restoration, joined us shortly after I arrived.
They began by moving the base pieces and leveling the ground where the monument would be situated. In the process of doing this properly, they had to move Catherine Allison (Kitty) Cobb’s stone, (W.R.W.’s wife) so they did some work to it for us at no additional charge.
Next, they placed a layer of cement beneath the stone’s base. Monte cleaned off the tops of each of the base pieces before putting them into place. They had never been bonded together in any way. He told me that, in those days, sometimes they would place limestone between the pieces, but they did not have our bonding materials at that time. He bonded the three base pieces together with epoxy.
I was quite surprised after he did the initial cleaning, that the base that goes immediately beneath the obelisk does not match the obelisk itself. The obelisk is made of Italian marble, but the first base is made of Grecian marble. I speculated that perhaps they were short on materials when the monument was made. W.R.W. Cobb died in 1864, during the Civil War, but from what I have gleaned from estate records, the monument was not made until a few years later, during Reconstruction. Perhaps they ran short of Italian marble. John Rankin speculated that it could have been that the monument maker just happened to have a base made of marble from Greece, and simply used whatever was at hand. Whatever the case, the Italian marble obelisk is followed by a Grecian marble base, then by two limestone bases, according to Monte Sparkman.
They drilled two holes into the obelisk itself, into which they inserted two aluminum pins. Then they filled in the gaps with a bonding material, as well. They then had the task of lining up and matching the pins and the holes, and they guided the two pieces into place. After the epoxy had set some, they cleaned off the excess. Then Monte filled the gaps in with filler. He said there is no way he could ever get the filler to match perfectly this stone, which is over 135 years old, but that as the material dries and sets, it will blend better with the stone.
Monte then sanded off many years of buildup from the stone. He will return in one to two weeks to do a final cleaning with a chemical agent. He could not do that then because the chemicals and water would interfere with the setting of the bonding materials.
On our “two for the price of one special”, they leveled Catherine’s stone, and then placed cement beneath the base. Next, he placed an epoxy bonding material into the slot where the headstone is inserted into the base. He said that the intricate crown and jewels on her stone were performed by hand, and stated what a good job that they had done on it. As he stood back and observed W.R.W.’s completed obelisk, Monte said, “It was quite an impressive monument in its day!”
I asked Monte for advice on how to preserve Bryant Cobb’s stone, as the headstone is currently propped up with a cairn stone from behind. Two trees had overtaken the stone when we first began the cemetery restoration, and the stumps remain today. Monte advised us to leave it alone until the stumps can either be removed, or rot out, as the base itself is currently encompassed on one corner by the stump. Monte nicely added some sand into the slot to help keep it upright, but it needs to be set like the others to keep it from tipping over and breaking in half. We can probably do this on a workday, if we get the stump removed.
Right as the job was being completed, Larry Maples, Jr. showed up. He stated that he would try to remove this stump from the base of Bryant’s stone by slowly cutting it away with a saw. If, for some reason, he is unable to do so, we will tackle it on our next big work day, in October. Also, John Rankin did a superficial exploration of the foot of his grave, which needs to be leveled out in order to accommodate the War of 1812 marker, and found a smaller stump beneath the surface, which will need to be removed in order to place the marker. Larry said he would try to do that one, as well. Special thanks to Larry for spraying the cemetery this summer! Without his willingness to jump in and do this, much of our hard work would already be overgrown.
Regarding Bryant’s stone, Monte said that it appears to be the original stone, placed near his death in 1881, not a more recent stone, as speculated by someone. It was assumed to have been a later stone due to the lettering, which one individual thought was done by machine. Monte, who is one of the few remaining monument makers that still does hand lettering, said that it is definitely hand lettered, but that whoever did it performed an outstanding job, better than most could do today by hand. Monte said that both Bryant and Catherine’s stones are made of marble. I neglected to ask him what kind of marble, i.e. country of origin. I do not think that they are Alabama marble, as they are not very sandy. Both of the bases for these two headstones are made of limestone. The fact that the monuments are made of imported marble is indicative of the social and financial status of the family.
I must not neglect to mention what John Rankin was doing while the monument was being restored. Many, many, thanks to him for felling a tree that Ivan had knocked over, and for cutting it into pieces for us. We had no idea that there was a fallen tree prior to our arrival that morning, so he was armed with only a machete. (At the end Monte recalled that he had a small skill saw with him, and loaned it to him.) John also removed many hickory shoots that had already sprouted from the hickory trees that we cut down. (Some shoots were already as tall as me!) John cut away locust sprouts, tree roots and weeds for us, as well.
Unfortunately, a knee injury and lack of tools, prevented my helping John with the removal of growth this time. I did use his probe to try and locate any additional stones beneath the surface, but to no avail. There are more rocks beneath the surface, though. It is pretty evident that they are cairn stones. I desperately wanted to excavate to see what they were, but my knee and the shovel did not get along that day! It is doubtful that more headstones will ever be found. At some point in the future, I will be collecting funds for a granite monument that states the names of the people we know that are buried there, and of those believed to be buried there. A marker of this type should not only serve as a monument, but also hopefully prevent future generations from destroying the cemetery.
Monte Sparkman said that trying to remove all of the black spots and blotches of the obelisk will require going too deeply into the surface of the stone, and will damage it, so it will still look like an old stone, even after his last cleaning. However, it is firmly cemented together, and should last for many generations, barring acts of God.
Thanks to all that contributed monetary funds, moral support, and manual labor toward the restoration of this monument to W.R.W. Cobb. It would not be a reality without the contributions of many people. W.R.W. Cobb was a member of the Alabama Legislature, a six term U.S. Congressman, a merchant, a landowner, and an example of how a “clock peddler” and a “plow boy” can make something of himself in the United States of America. He was elected to the Confederate Congress, but also appointed Provisional Governor of Alabama by President Abraham Lincoln. I prefer to think that he was not playing both sides, but merely trying to ascertain how to best serve the people in his area, as the history books have all indicated he was a champion of the “common man.” As Chairman of the Committee on Public Lands, he was instrumental in getting the Charleston-Memphis Railroad in place, which changed the face of the south. As descendants of this family, we have every right to be proud of the contributions made to the establishment of government, commerce, and religion in Madison County, Alabama by this man and his family. Hopefully, this monument and the other monuments to come will serve to remind future generations of the impact that these hardworking pioneers had here.
- Lou Sams
September 23, 2004
Photos of project taken by John Rankin: (Use the "Back" feature of your browser to return)
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