Preservation Recommendations from the Iron Cross Cemetery Survey
The preservation status of wrought iron crosses is the subject of considerable popular commentary that is more or less grounded in the facts as encountered in the field. The present survey produces new findings and perspectives on the preservation and loss of wrought iron crosses in North Dakota. The report goes on to make some specific recommendations whereby preservation of this priceless legacy may be encouraged.
National Register RecommendationsEssential to the preservation of wrought iron crosses in the cemeteries of North Dakota is the placement of additional cemeteries on the National Register of Historic Places.
Whereas National Register Bulletin 15, How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation, is basic to all nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, the process for cemeteries must be guided also (and in some matters instead) by National Register Bulletin 41, Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places.
Clearly, the cemeteries assessed as significant in this survey meet National Register criteria as explained in this bulletin. As shown in tables above, they are significant primarily under Criterion C:
Properties may be eligible for the National Register if they embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.The explanation of Criterion C in Bulletin 41 goes on to show its applicability here by saying,
In central North Dakota, German-Russian Wrought Iron Cross Sites contain a dazzling array of intricately embellished hand-crafted grave crosses, a long-established Old World folk tradition brought to the United States by German-Russian immigrants. The crosses, some by highly-skilled blacksmiths whose names are known, and others by unknown artisans, display a balance of cultural tradition and individual creativity.That passage, inspired by the earlier iron cross survey and nominations from North Dakota, is applicable by extension to the surveys newly comprehended in the current survey.
Those cemeteries assessed as not eligible in the current survey were so adjudged because they did not meet the tests of Criterion C. Almost any older cemetery might be assessed as having some historical significance, but the key point of assessment was the presence or absence of sufficient wrought iron cross art so as to meet Criterion C. This did not mean a set number of wrought iron crosses; a single piece of profound artistry might rate as significant. Rather the judgment was more holistic, but based carefully on the wording of the criterion, seeking assemblages that were "the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction." Thus identification of work with a known master smith carried significance; so did evident high artistic value of iron crosses, even if not identified by individual smith; and so also did identification with "a significant and distinguishable entity," such as the folk-art tradition of a particular culture. Where the crosses were unidentified as to smith, did not possess high artistic value, and did not fit with an identifiable folk-art tradition, the cemetery was assessed as not significant.
The cemeteries here assessed as significant are also significant secondarily under Criterion A:
Properties can be eligible for the National Register if they are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.Among the previously identified historic context themes for North Dakota with which the cemeteries can be linked (and are so linked in site files) are Rural Settlement, Urban Settlement, and Religion. The emphasis in all these ties is in line with ethnicity. The iron crosses always are associated with the settlement and religion of certain ethnic groups, as described in other sections of this report.
Beyond the usual criteria and explanations, Bulletin 41 also sets forth a number of "Criteria Considerations" applicable to cemeteries. These reflect a general wariness toward the nomination of cemeteries to the National Register, but specify that certain justifications are sufficient to override that concern and make certain cemeteries eligible. Two of these Criteria Considerations have applicability to the cemeteries here treated. First, Criteria Consideration A:
A religious property is eligible if it derives its primary significance from architectural or artistic distinction or historical importance.Such is the case with the iron cross cemeteries, assessed as they are significant under criteria C and A.
Also applicable is Criteria Consideration F:
A property primarily commemorative in intent can be eligible if design, age, tradition, or symbolic value has invested it with its own historical significance.The explanation of this consideration goes on to cite, as meeting the consideration,
A gravemarker significant primarily as a document of the traditions of an ethnic or cultural group.Given the broad and apparent eligibility of iron cross cemetery sites, the logical course is to proceed with a multiple property nomination providing for the listing of the entire roster of eligible cemeteries. Tables below catalog such eligible cemeteries. It will be noted that in many cases there are additional features beyond the cemetery proper and its grave markers that are significant, are associated by proximity and significance with the cemeteries, and should be included in the nomination. Examples of such features (not an exhaustive list) are churches, parish halls, shrines, rectories, schools, fences, and even privies. All such features are documented in the site files.
Of such a nomination, Bulletin 41 says,
individual gravemarkers would be counted as separately contributing features in those cases where gravemarkers have been comprehensively inventoried and evaluated and those of outstanding rank can be determined.Those gravemarkers "of outstanding rank" comprise the wrought iron crosses. They have been photographed individually and mapped individually on the sketch maps included in the site files.
In addition, it is the recommendation of this survey that cast iron gravemarkers, although not individually inventoried, be somehow noted in the nomination and stated as contributing to the listings.
Another question to be here resolved is the one of boundaries. Bulletin 41 says,
Boundaries should be drawn to encompass, but not to exceed, the full extent of resources which contribute to the significance of the property.Such boundaries may be specified by legal description, by verbal point-to-point reference, or by use of a site plan or sketch map, "if the map includes a scale indicator." Sketch maps in the site files of this survey include scale indicators.
Finally, the investigators recommend that the iron cross nomination exercise the "Not for Publication" option stated in Bulletin 41, whereby the National Park Service is asked to restrict information on sites in order not to expose the properties to harm.
Other Preservation RecommendationsAt this time there is a high degree of public consciousness of the wrought iron cross tradition in North Dakota. Nevertheless, the preservation of iron crosses in future will require ongoing efforts in public education. Moreover, this survey produces findings that should be incorporated into the public message. General points of new emphasis should include:
Areas for Further EvaluationThe possibilities for further enlightenment of the iron cross tradition in North Dakota are endless. There are many blacksmiths yet to be identified. Field material in hand deserves much more analysis to correlate and analyze artists, designs, techniques, disseminations, and influences. Finally, although the current survey is considered to be substantially exhaustive of iron cross cemeteries in North Dakota, without doubt there are more iron crosses to be found in isolated cemeteries. Discovery and inquiry on this subject will never cease.
Nevertheless, this survey lays adequate grounding in almost all respects to proceed with nominations to the National Register that will protect the substantial resources here documented. In that practical sense there is little immediate need for further evaluation. Here are three areas where the investigators feel additional research would strengthen the coming nominations.
Summary of Recommendations1. Pursue a multiple property nomination aimed at placing all significant wrought iron cross cemetery sites in North Dakota on the National Register of Historic Places.
2. Continue public education on the subject of iron cross cemeteries, incorporating new findings and concerns disclosed by the current survey.
3. Consider assertive new programs to educate cemetery caretakers about measures to preserve iron crosses; involve blacksmiths in iron cross restoration; and encourage repatriation of iron crosses that have been removed from cemeteries.