The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 03, 2003

Campus Martius' historic monuments mark city's place in the past

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor



Two acres in the heart of Detroit make up the plot of land called Campus Martius, named for an area in ancient Rome that served as a gathering point for soldiers. Detroit's Campus Martius has also been used as a gathering and drilling place for soldiers - especially those from the Civil War - and as a focal point for political and civic gatherings.

Now the building trades and their contractors are re-developing the land as a greenbelt among the city's skyscrapers, with a place for ice skating in the winter, summer concerts, a café, and a water feature.

The park already has two landmarks - the highly visible Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which has stood guard for 130 years - and a few steps away, the city's original survey monument, which until last spring, had been buried for the last two centuries. Before the project is completed, the monuments will probably once again be reunited on Campus Martius.

Soldiers and sailors to get new place of honor

The Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Detroit was commissioned in 1867 - two years after the end of the Civil War - and was one of the first markers in the nation conceived to honor those who lost their lives in that conflict.

The monument was finally completed in 1872, and the massive marker hasn't moved an inch since. But now the monument is being prepared for a journey of about 150 feet to the southwest, to a new spot near Woodward and Michigan Avenues in Detroit's Campus Martius Park, which is being completely re-worked and landscaped.

Masons from Grunwell-Cashero are taking care of the disassembly and re-assembly, which involves the movement of more than 100 granite sections, some of which weigh as much as 30,000 lbs.

"Nobody does this stuff any more, so it's pretty nice to be able to work on it," said mason Bob Olsen Sr. of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1. "These stones are so big. It's difficult enough moving these with a crane; I can't imagine how they moved these sections up here in the 1800s, and they still fit together really well."

So how do you go about disassembling a jigsaw puzzle of granite stones and bronze figures? Fortunately, the masons of 120 years ago left holes for iron "keyways" in the tops of the stones. No one makes keyways anymore, but Grunwell-Cashero was able to find three for the price of $2,000 from a source in Georgia via a search on the Internet. Wedge-shaped with a ring at the top, key locks are placed into similar-sized holes in the stones, and then silica sand is poured in to fill in the gaps, which locks in the key.

"You wouldn't think they would hold, but they do," said mason Jerry Daman.

The masons then thread a line through the holes in the key, attach the line to a hook on the crane, and the stone can be lifted up a few feet in order to allow straps to be placed under the stones. Secured by the straps, the crane operator can then safely move the stones several feet to the lay-down area.

Grunwell-Cashero vice president Joe Dapkus, Sr. said the monument "is in very good condition. Nothing can happen to granite, all you have to do is clean it. And the original craftsmanship was perfect. The stones are so heavy, they anchored themselves."

On the National Register of Historic Places since 1984, the Soldiers and Sailors monument is 56 feet in height with an octagonal circumference of 51 feet. Constructed from Rhode Island granite, the lowest section of the monument is a three-step platform, containing four pedestals each topped with a bronze eagle with raised wings.

The second section features four eight-foot-tall bronze male figures which represent the Navy, Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery, all bearing the weapons and tools of their branch of service.

Up on the third section are bronze bas-relief medallions of President Abraham Lincoln, Admiral David S. Farragut, General Ulysses S. Grant, and General William T. Sherman.

Atop those sections are bronze figures of four women, representing Victory, Emancipation, History, and Union.

Crowning the monument is an 11-foot-high bronze, Native American/classical warrior representing "Michigan," a female figure who wears a heavy headdress of shells and feathers, while a tomahawk rests in her belt. The figure brandishes a sword in her right hand, while her left arm raises a shield. The monument was located in Campus Martius because it was the rallying and recruiting point for Michigan troops who left to fight in the Civil War.

Last week, the monument was nearly completely taken apart. The granite and figures will be cleaned, and the re-assembly is expected to take about a month.

"Things have gone about the way we expected," said Dapkus. "Going into this, about the only question we had was if there was anything inside the base of the monument. And there wasn't. Just rubble."

(Editor's note: a week after we talked to Dapkus, a copper box was found inside one of the granite stones, dated July 4, 1867. Unfortunately, the paper contents were very water-damaged.)

ONE OF THE SMALLER granite stones that make up the disassembled Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Detroit is strapped for removal by Local 1 masons Bob Olsen, Sr. (foreground) and Jerry Daman. The crane operator is Jason Ramsey of Local 324. Using a drill at right is Local 1's David Vogt. They're employed by Grunwell-Cashero.
THE SOLDIERS AND SAILORS Monument, in an 1888 photo.