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Question of the Day
Freedom sits at a lofty place in the hearts of Americans, but in Washington, it stands with the best view in the city on top of the nation’s Capitol.
From atop the Capitol’s dome, the Statue of Freedom has had an almost unobstructed view for more than 140 years. It has borne witness to 27 presidents sworn in on the steps below and watched over lawmakers during wars and peacetime.
But every few years, that view gets blocked by scaffolding erected by crews hired by the curator of the Capitol to clean and recaulk the aging statue. This year, following the Fourth of July fireworks, the curator’s office began erecting the scaffolding for the cleaning project that will last several weeks.
“Each time we go up there, we clean and recaulk it and make sure that it isn’t leaking,” Capitol Curator Barbara Wolanin says. “The other part of the job is to check the pedestal.”
The statue is made of half-inch thick bronze and weighs more than 16,000 pounds, according to the architect of the Capitol’s Web site (www.aoc.gov).
Although the 19-foot, 6-inch statue looks like a mere hood ornament from the ground, up close it is an imposing figure whose defiant glance stares east, with her right hand resting on the hilt of a sheathed sword and her left on the shield of the United States. She faces this way so that, symbolically, the sun never sets on the face of freedom.
The tips of the statue’s eagle-feathered headdress reach 288 feet above Capitol Hill, making it the pinnacle of Washington’s tallest building and the second-highest structure behind the Washington Monument.
But for the public, it’s difficult to get close to the statue.
Capitol visitors were not allowed to tour the dome following September 11, but tours were reinstated in 2004. Visitors have never been able to walk outside at the top of the Capitol dome to see the statue up close and have only had brief views of the statue from inside the building.
However, for a time in 1993, Thomas Crawford’s famous statue was a little more accessible to the general public.
On Mother’s Day, May 9, 1993, Erickson Air-Crane Inc. used one of its S-64 Aircrane helicopters to lift the statue off of its base at the top of the Capitol and move it to a safe spot on the steps of the Capitol for its first major preservation project. The curator withheld the name of who did the preservation project for national security reasons.
“That project was one of the highlights of my career,” Ms. Wolanin said. “It was preceded by a conservation study in 1991 that determined how much work needed to be done.”
Prior to the 1991 study, the statue had never been completely restored.
During Operation Lift Off, in 1993, Mr. Horton was Erickson’s heavy lift manager and was in charge of the nine-man crew that lifted the statue from its base atop the Capitol, in front of a crowd of 10,000 to 15,000, and put it back a few months later.
By Mark Davis
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