Marble block on standby for Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
October 31, 2009
Preservation experts armed with high-tech grout will get to work on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia next spring, ending a long debate and a Colorado-connected quandary over what to do about cracks in one of the country’s iconic monuments.
The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a $70,000 contract for grouting of cracks. The cracks have spread around all four sides and through the middle of the 77-year-old monument dedicated to unknown soldiers who gave their lives in service of the country.
At the same time, Arlington officials have decided to accept a donation of a giant chunk of snow-white marble that has been sitting outside the Yule Quarry in Marble since 2004. The cemetery will hold on to the block in case the tomb’s carved marble eventually needs replacing.
“If it can no longer be repaired, wonderful. We’ll be ready for whatever,” said Robert Nieweg, director of the southern field office for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Glenwood Springs businessman John Haines donated the $31,000 block to the cemetery. The block is from the same quarry where the tomb’s original marble was cut, but the trust objected to an earlier plan to replace the marble on the tomb. Haines said this week that he had not been notified about the repair contract. He said his last contact came from Arlington officials who traveled to Marble this summer, examined the block and determined it would be a suitable replacement. “I’m always the last one to know,” Haines said.
Haines had the block quarried after decades-old cracks on the tomb began spreading, leading some cemetery officials to fear the monument could break apart.
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Emotionally charged public outrage over the replacement plan led to Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, sponsoring an amendment last year to block any replacement until more study was done.
That study – the third on the monument’s crack problems – determined repair would be an option, but not likely a long-term fix. The study also found that repair would be much less costly than replacement. Even with the donation, replacement was estimated to cost $2.2 million.
“This decision ensures that the historical integrity of this unique memorial will be preserved for future generations of Americans who visit the tomb to honor our men and women in uniform who gave their lives for our nation,” Webb said in an e-mail.