War history repeats itself

Saturday, September 6, 2003

There wasn't much fanfare to the new Courthouse Park statue's unveiling.

Dexter, Mo., sculptor Alan Gibson yanked off a black piece of cloth Friday in front of a small audience of Cape Girardeau County officials and a few curious bystanders. There it was: the Union soldier, an exact replica of the one erected in 1911.

The old statue, made of cast iron and purchased by the Women's Relief Corps, was smashed to smithereens by an oak tree limb on May 12. In June, the county handed the pieces to Gibson, who assured officials he could replicate the statue. They said they were doubtful.

Gibson painstakingly matched 200 pieces together. He used them to make a rubber mold, then he cast the statue in polyester resin, coated it in bronze and chemically aged it.

The results astounded those who attended the unveiling at the park, which surrounds the Common Pleas Courthouse in downtown Cape Girardeau.

"It is beautiful," said Donna Burk, administrative assistant to the county commission. "I am amazed. I can't believe the job he did, and the neatest part is that he volunteered for this."

Several onlookers posed for pictures with the soldier while others watched from shaded benches.

"This is an element of history for Cape Girardeau, and it's appropriate we be here to honor this moment," said Dr. Fred Goodwin, a retired dean at Southeast Missouri State University, sitting under the oak that caused the disaster.

County workers helped Gibson put a makeshift harness around the statue, then it was lifted with a bucket truck. Gibson shimmied up some scaffolding to help ease his creation into place above a fountain. It faces southwest, which is the way the old statue faced, Gibson assured onlookers. The statue was bolted into place.

He took some artistic liberties with the replica. The old soldier didn't have feet, just ankles that went straight into the pedestal. The new one has boots.

It also has a plastic tube inside containing Wednesday's Southeast Missourian and an article about Gibson that ran in The Daily Statesman of Dexter, Mo.

"Another tree will have to smash this statue if people want to get that out," Gibson joked.

Don McQuay, county building and grounds superintendent, said workers will paint the fountain to match the statue's color and then turn the water back on. He didn't have a date for the painting work.

County Commissioner Joe Gambill said 75 percent of the $13,200 bill for the statue will be paid by Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief funds, with another 10 percent covered by State Emergency Management Agency funds. He said the initial cracks to the structure occurred when the limb hit it during May 6 severe weather that rumbled through Cape Girardeau County. The statue didn't crumble until six days later.

The old statue may be fully put back together and placed inside the Common Pleas Courthouse, Gibson said.

hhall@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 121

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