This lecture is part of the 2009 Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit

Case study of the restoration of the Monument at Massacre Bay, A’asu, Tutuila, American Samoa by Martin Johnson and Irving Slavid

Irving Slavid: Thank you and good morning. This presentation is going to be in two parts. I’m going to give the presentation about the condition assessment of the monument and Martin is going to do the presentation of the year later of actually conservation treatments.

This is a early print of the massacre at the A’asu Bay. The reason for the massacre was that the French ship Lapérouse set sail from France in 1785, a scientific trip continuing the discoveries of Captain Kirk, came into the bay there looking for fresh water. This is the first time in Samoa, the first European contacts with them. There was a massacre, there was a fight. The landing party’s sole purpose was to get fresh water. They were friendly from the beginning. Then there was musket fire and stone throwing. 12 French shipmates were killed and a number of Samoans were killed. It was said that the Samoans had French food that night. (laughter)

Now where is Samoa? Up until a few weeks ago, probably most people didn’t know it was Samoa until a tsunami came through three weeks ago and it was on the national news. But it’s still is in the middle of nowhere. A lot of these presentations today, yesterday were … Treatments done with countries … this is in the other side of the world. Getting equipment there and organizing was probably some of the worst case we had. It’s really in the middle of nowhere… Big red button.

Here we are. Okay. Down here it tells you how many miles away other things are. Very far away. Australia, 2500 miles. Tahiti, even 1500 miles. It’s a way. This is a typical beach view. This is volcanic rocks and certainly enough rocks for the natives to throw to the French. Actually, they have a custom there of throwing stones. The natives told us there are packs wild dogs on the island. They said that if we see a pack of wild dogs just to lean down and as if you’re picking up a stone and they’ll run away. They’re very good stone throwers. We were told the story of one person’s mother-in-law killing a chicken by throwing a stone at it. (laughter) They are excellent stone throwers. That’s a typical view.

the cemetery of the Asian work woods

the cemetery of the Asian work woods

Irving Slavid: That’s the cemetery of the Asian work woods. Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese are working at a local tuner factory. That’s more of a cemetery that we are accustomed to. This is a local tradition of having a girdle in your front yard. Relative died and you had a cemetery flock and monument right in your yard. People sat around and ate dinner out front.

Okay good. This is the village of A’asu which was where the massacre took place. It’s now called Massacre Bay. To get there the first trip, we left the harbor here, and that was a view of where we left. We drove here, got in these little boats, went around corner and into Massacre Bay. The village was actually wiped out by another hurricane about 20-30 years ago. There was only the monument left. We had a nice little boat ride going there and coming back. Getting our materials there was another story.

This is the view of where the monument is. It’s in this way. There’s the monument covered over with tent. This stream here is the freshwater stream that the French came to get their water. It’s still running and that’s where we got our freshwater for our supplies. You can see how remote it is. It’s remote.

Picture about 1900. You can see the village in the back with the church. This is a monument surrounded by an iron fence with an iron cross at the top. The monument was built about 1900. In 1882, French missionaries identified the site and they made a simple monument with a cross. 3 years later, a larger monument was built. Pretty much resembles the one that still stands. What is very interesting is that the group of natives and how slender and fit they are. Where now, today, we see Samoans and they’re very large people.

This is the monument as we found it 2006. This is jungle. It was very different site work than we’re used to.

Between 1933 and 1981, the French actually looked after this monument. Additional modifications to the monument were made every so many years. Entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

We got there, the natives cleared the monument of trees and vines. On each side of it, there’s what’s called a tee-tree plant. These are sacred plants which could not be touched. A lot of it was just customs we had to adhere to being there. They’re very strict of no working on Sundays. Actually, they don’t really want you to go swimming on Sundays. This is how we found it, in any case. Look at it.

Due to inspection, we obviously had to clean it. Scraping out loose materials. Incidentally, shipping our materials there, our tools. I think we shipped 2 5-gallon containers. We were used to working Europe and shipping materials and instruments to Europe. That’s relatively easy. Shipping to Samoa, we had just thought we’d call up the local UPS people and ship it, which we did. Then we got billed. (laughter) It was over a thousand dollars. We learned because the next trip we had to ship a lot of supplies.

This is the monument as we found it 2006

This is the monument as we found it 2006

I was moving loose stucco. The monument was made of concrete, stucco, and basalt stones. It was theoretically white washed a long time ago. Here we did the pink bronze plaque here, which we should have a better picture of next time. Protecting it before applying your biological solution and hand scrubbing the areas which were strong enough to take a hand scrubbing.
Then on the concrete wall, which was in quite good shape, we did fireside and also power washing. Then we ask how do we get power washing in the jungle?

Speaker 2: There’s no power. (laughter)

Irving Slavid: Pardon?

Speaker 2: Well, there’s no power.

Irving Slavid: Yeah, but there’s a generator. Where do you get the water? That was a unique situation where we had natives and the team transporting the freshwater from the stream in 5-gallon buckets and then we had a funnel with a tube going into the pressure washer and they were pouring the water into the funnel. Well you just had make it work. They were no running water. But it worked.

After cleaning, we could finally see the monument. We could run around documenting the cracks, the losses. The numbers were to identify each corner. What was going on with the monument? It didn’t seem to have any reinforcement in it, which was actually a good thing. Nothing happening. The cracking is actually in quite good shape. They had around the base of the monument was all rubble which apparently had been replaced through previous storms. It’s about less than 100 yards, maybe 70 yards, from the shore when we walked. Not much of a hill. If you had a big storm you could waddle work this out.

That’s what it looked like after the complete cleaning. A big change. The bronze plaque is there. We can check samples. We checked about a dozen samples from around the monument. Documenting where we took them from, took them back to the lab, analyzed them. Found out what the aggregate used in the stucco mix and patches, trying to replicate it. This cross-section up here of stucco blown up and we found, quite surprisingly, microphobes, which were mentioned previous presentations. What were these microphobes doing in this island in the middle of nowhere on this monument?

In 1979, did some road construction. They were painting white lines down the middle of the road. These microprobes are reflective. That’s where that came from, it was a burst. We tried to match this type of finish in the stucco. That’s our match. It was a modified yarn with the aggregate we had taken from the riverbed, the freshwater riverbed. Clean and sized appropriately and mixed in the modified yarn made for us to match the original. I think it matched pretty well.

I think the next slide is going to be for Martin in the next track.

Martin Johnson: Good morning I’m Martin Johnson, mining and conservation collaborative. As Irving had already explaining, the restoration monument was done in consequent of 2 year period. Norman, Irving went to scout the monument, take samples, figure out exactly what we were going to do. The next year in the summer of 2007, we went to actually do the restoration.

In the second trip, when we got to Pago Pago, which is quite the journey. We’re not going to spend any time really talking about that. Although I recommend it highly if anyone ever wants to go, it’s a beautiful island. The chief where Norman and Irving went to, they went from a village that was a short drive just to the north of Pago Pago, which is right there. They actually went over to this little village here, Fagasa. They took a small boat ride with a smallish boat ride. It was still a boat ride in a sea instead. It was not much out there. You got the whole forest and trails ends.

This is how it was when we arrived in the year it had been cleaned

This is how it was when we arrived in the year it had been cleaned

When we arrived in the summer of 2007, the chief of the village of Fagasa had not allowed us access. That was because the mackerel were running. Fish is very important to all the villages and the tribes that are on the island. Each of these little villages has a high talking chief. They really are the ruler of the village. Thus, we had to go all the way around the island.

We went in a boat. This is the crew. Andy, Ansi, I’m spacing the name of this gentleman, and that’s Carl Munson, he’s been an instructor here in the previous NCPTT courses. He’s a stone mason that we use when we have large projects and this was certainly one of those. Along the way, beautiful wildlife. Some whales, some dolphins. This is the slide that I refer to as Jacque and Filip enter the water. Because of the reef of the site, we actually had to take a zodiac from the large fishing boat to actually access the site. This is how it was when we arrived in the year it had been cleaned. Norman and Irving had been there to assess it. You could see actually all the growth that has occurred. In the previous images, you saw that it was actually fairly clean when Irving and Norman left.

The island gets about 500 to 600 inches of rain a year. We didn’t touch on when we went. We actually went in August. Being a New Orleans based monument conservation company, when Irving first told me about this I was psyched. This was where to work. Let’s go January, February, let’s go to the South Pacific, everyone’s dream. Well, we went in August. It’s the dry period. Even when we were there, if you saw from the images previous, it was tented. It did rain. It was interesting, when rain came, it just poured. It was actually fairly dry.

This is the crew. This gentleman here is actually the chief. Believe it or not, his English is excellent. He grew up in San Diego. He is the chief of the village where we actually accessed. (laughter) This is Normie. The crew and the boat captain referred to him Normie. He’s Sakiwi. Normie didn’t enjoy the boat ride. (laughter)

Actually, here we are. We’re actually doing consolidation work to the actual monument. Here we’re removing loose parts of the stucco and concrete. We’re going to use a HCT-consolident to actually get ready for the yawn patches that we’re going to be performing. That’s Carl and myself and Irving just working away. There’s the actual image of the power wash. It’s the second power wash. This is the power where’s it’s really prepping. We’ve already been working on prepping some of the areas of the loose material. Putting consolident and getting ready for consolident . Irving is just really trying to give it the true pressure cleaning. Before we did that, we did wrap all the bronze plaques. I think there was an imagery of that. This is how we were getting water to the pressure washer. It was a chain gang, if you will, where we were ferrying water then just be pouring it into a funnel. Worked pretty well. Norman is actually holding up the tent. (laughter) It’s a very important job.

Here we are doing some patching. Again, he mentioned the tee- plants, which were sacred. They were somewhat of a hindrance. They got in the way. We obviously worked around them. More images of actually using the yarn. Yeah, next. It actually went fairly well. There’s the outdoor Labrador. That’s all the material that Irving has already illustrated. Getting the stuff there required at least 2 to 3 months previous to when we were going. We had to have everything packed, ready, and available to ship. We were fairly nervous that it hadn’t arrived even though we were on the way on that flight.

Here we are doing some patching

Here we are doing some patching

This is the mixture of the white wash, which was a silicon based white wash that Norman and Irving developed in the MCECM lab. This is where starting to apply the white wash. You can actually see in the background the wrapping of the bronze plaque. This is where we were predated the Survivor. We separated into 2 tribes because of weather. (laughter) The weather was unbelievable. The trade winds hit the islands. There were 10 to 20 foot seas and boats were being lost. We couldn’t take the boat around the island anymore, which was about a 2 hour trip each way. It was arduous. Carl and myself and David Henrick with 2 guides hiked, which we were told we couldn’t hike. We had no choice, we did. This was the little hut, which is a house, at the top of where we hiked down. We a bit of topography. It was just straight down from this spot. It’s beautiful. If this was in the Caribbean, that would be a multi-multi-multimillion dollar hut. But it’s not. (laughter)
Some health warnings along the way. Lapetrosis made us all really psyched to be hiking through the jungle. That’s a photograph of myself and that is what you’re hiking through. Actually, this is somewhat steep. Over climb to get out of here in 500 to 600 of rain a year.

This is the monument as we’re finishing up the white wash. You’ll see how it’s looking. You can also see the wrapping that we did the Carol bronze. The other bronze plaques that showed the restoration work previously are in the backside right near where Carl is standing. While Carl and I and David and the 2 guides were hiking, Team A was being interviewed for a local Samoan television then doing tours of restaurant, looking for French restaurants. (laughter) I looked the French up, the island looking for French restaurants. I think they succeeded in being interviewed but finding the restaurant, I don’t think went too well.

This is where starting to apply the white wash

This is where starting to apply the white wash

We actually have local guide. That’s Junior. They cooked up the traditional meal for us. They made a fire and used the banana or palm leaves and planteen leaves and cooked with stone. He built the stone and cooked. It was quite delicious actually. There we are having lunch. This gentleman here is David Henrick who came and took the first NCPTT course in 2003. This is our guides and us, David and Carl, who are sitting monuments on the last day after we finished our work.

This is a photograph of the cross then the original monument that Irving’s already discussed. I took a little bit of a walkabell with Carl and David. David had been to the site many times and had always been looking to find this cross. We found it. There it is. I hope we have a better image. There, that’s a better image. It is on a grave site of the grandmother of the chief that, who used to lived in this village. That’s it. (applause)


This monument marks the site of a violent encounter of French explorers–the first Europeans to make landfall on these islands–with the Samoan people in December of 1787. It was listed (AS-32-004) on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, cited in the NRIS as 1972-04-13. There are several components to the A’asu Monument as it exists today. The largest of these is the central portion of the monument, probably built in 1884. It is a sloping stucco-covered box of complex shape, resting on a multi-level platform, and supporting a large French bronze plaque with the date of 1883. (Smaller commemorative plaques are mounted on its rear face.) In 1948, an iron fence seen in an early photograph was replaced with a concrete wall, and a concrete cross was placed to replace the previous one, which was also of iron.

The presentation will include a description of the testing of materials suitable for a tropical climate, and of the difficult logistics of working in an extremely remote area, along with a detailed discussion of treatments. These treatments were intended to slow down deterioration of the monument, and to re-establish a coherent appearance to it, essentially as it was with the addition of the concrete wall and cross in 1948. Our emphasis was on the preservation of surviving fabric, including previous repairs that were still mechanically sound. Consideration of new conservation materials was based on issues of physical compatibility (with contiguous historic materials), and of product reliability. With specific respect to the latter, there is–as there is on all conservation projects–an important question of the balance between craft and science. Highly technical products formulated for long service life often have complex application requirements that make them difficult to utilize in the field. More conventional products, while easier to apply, were not likely to do well at A’asu, where the rainfall and biological growth are extreme, and where periodic “touch-up” is not a viable option. This dilemma was made more complicated by the need to accomplish all of the work within a very limited time schedule.

Our approach was the undertaking of this work with highly qualified preservation craftsmen, using products (both commercial and custom formulations) with which they have worked comfortably and successfully on past projects. Final product selection took into account the application conditions and weathering environment of A’asu, and the question of the timing of multiple treatments.

Author Biographies:
Martin Johnson, Vice President of MCC. Martin, educated as a geographer, has 6 seasons of experience with MCC, undertaking cleaning, resetting, patching and chemical consolidation. He has been an instructor at the NCPTT cemetery training workshop forthe past 3 years.

Irving Salvid, President of MCC. Irving is recognized as an authoritative specialist in the restoration of New England’s historic sandstone, marble, and slate grave markers. Slavid helped design the first cemetery training workshop for the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (National Park Service), and has continued to serve as an instructor for NCPTT.

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
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Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]
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