Civil War monuments get makeover at Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge

Civil War monuments get makeover at Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge

March 21st, 2012 by Pam Sohn and Tim Omarzu in News

Ralph Lucas, back, sprays down the Iowa Monument with D/2, a cleaner, while Dale Lupton follows behind with a pressure sprayer on Tuesday. A six-person preservation team with the National Park Service cleaned the Iowa Monument in Rossville on Tuesday afternoon. The crew, which works out of Frederick, Md., and travels the country to clean monuments, worked on the Minnesota monument yesterday, and will be moving on to the Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, and Sherman monuments in the next few months. Team member Ralph Lucas says that the team will be in the area for about three months, which he says is the average time for a park's cleaning. The group uses an environment friendly cleaner called D/2 to clean the structures.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

From the ground, it's hard to tell that a giant has been watching over Rossville Boulevard.

"His foot's got to be 20 inches long," said Carrie Toepper, marveling at the size of the Union soldier atop the Iowa Monument, a 72-foot-tall granite Civil War marker on Rossville Boulevard just east of downtown Rossville.

Toepper belongs to a six-person crew giving makeovers to Civil War monuments on the Chickamauga Battlefield and Missionary Ridge in time for the 150th anniversary of the battles for Chattanooga, which comes next year.

Armed with tools of the trade such as powdered walnut shells, used as a gentler alternative to sand when sandblasting bronze plaques, the crew hauled its gear here from the National Park Service's Historic Preservation Training Center in Frederick, Md. They're staying at an extended-stay hotel near Hamilton Place mall.

On Tuesday, the crew tackled two stone towers: the Iowa Monument and the 2nd Minnesota Monument on Missionary Ridge.

Work included cleaning a layer of green moss off the head of the giant Iowa soldier, removing wasp nests from his pants and power-washing away years of soot from passing cars and trucks.

To fill joints between stones, the crew mixed mortar with sand chosen to match the original shade, which varies from monument to monument. The Minnesota Monument uses lead mortar, which is so durable none of it needed replacing.

This year, eight monuments will be cleaned and repaired.

"When this is done, 19 out of our 20 big-asset monuments will be redone," said Jim Szyjkowski, director of maintenance for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

"The last crown jewel [to get a makeover] will be the New York Peace Monument in Point Park, and I hope we'll be able to do it next year," Szyjkowski said.

The three-year total to repair and clean monuments in the military park comes to $1.04 million. Of that, $310,000 is federal stimulus money.

"This is the same crew that has been here for the last two or three years," Szyjkowski said.

Crew members travel around the country restoring National Park Service properties such as the Kalaupapa leper colony in Hawaii, Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island near Biloxi, Miss., and Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas near Key West, Fla.

The crew's previous Chattanooga work involved cleaning battle monuments at Orchard Knob, including a bronze statue of a soldier whose shoes don't match.

"The guy has two different shoes on. One has laces, the other one doesn't," Toepper said. In the heat of battle, "that's something that would have happened," she said.

Preservation crew members appreciate details they come across during cleanup.

"The flag even has the stars carved into it," crew member Dale Lupton said of the stars and stripes in the giant Iowa Monument soldier's hands.