A Facelift For The Tomb of the Unknowns: Arlington National Cemetery

New Tomb monument bogged in red tape
July 29, 2005

The flap over whether to replace or repair the cracking Tomb of the Unknowns is engulfed in bureaucratic red tape from Washington to tiny Marble, Colorado.

A creamy-colored, 60-ton block of marble in Colorado appears to be right for a replacement of the Arlington National Cemetery monument that's been sporting cracks for 16 years, the Denver Post said.

But, Beltway wrangling has the issue in doubt. First, there's the decision to be made as whether to repair the cracks or bring in a new rock. Then, there's the marble itself, taken from the same quarry as the 1931 original and already donated for the monument. But, now there's a question of whether bids should be taken.

And, the National Cemetery Division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has to wait until the Virginia Historical Society and national historic preservation societies determine that replacement won't violate historical compliance regulations.

July 31, 2005
Marble found for Unknowns tomb

MARBLE, Colorado — The quarry that supplied the marble for the Tomb of the Unknowns has found another block that may be suitable to replace the cracked memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

The 118,000-pound block has been cut from the Yule Marble Quarry, about 100 miles southwest of Denver, but what happens next is up in the air because of government purchasing rules and questions about whether the tomb should be replaced or repaired.

A 1990 study recommended replacing the tomb because of two horizontal cracks that first appeared in the 1940s and then spread.

But the Virginia Historical Society — which has some say over the tomb because the cemetery is in that state — and national historic preservation societies still haven’t determined whether replacing old marble would violate preservation rules.

“If a headstone cracks we replace it,” said Lori Calvillo, public affairs officer for the cemetery. “But it’s no longer that easy.”

The cemetery is required by law to seek bids from other quarries and companies that can carve a new tomb matching the old one.

Rex Loesby, the former owner of the quarry and a consultant to the current owners, said the bid specifications call for marble that matches the original as closely as possible — bright white and gold-veined.

“But it’s not a sure thing we will supply it,” he said.

The tomb is made from seven pieces of marble, all quarried in Colorado and weighing a combined 79 tons. It was completed in 1932 at a cost of $48,000.

July 15, 2005
Facelift for the Tomb

Veterans Affairs joins Army to replace the original monument

Last November, Veterans Affairs and the Department of the Army signed a joint agreement to replace the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. The main part of the Tomb, crafted from a 55-ton block of solid marble, has stood adjacent to the Memorial Amphitheater overlooking Washington, D.C., since 1932.

The 73-year-old monument is being replaced because of two large cracks that travel completely around the Tomb.

Because the Tomb of the Unknowns is considered a government headstone, the Army asked VA — through the National Cemetery Administration — to acquire an identical replacement. NCA will solicit, award and fund the contracts to create the replacement Tomb, including procurement of the stone, sculpting the marble and transporting the new Tomb to Arlington.

The original Tomb came from Yule Quarry in Colorado. It was designed by Lorimer Rich and sculpted by Thomas Hudson Jones.

The Tomb consists of seven pieces of marble — the subbase (four), base, die and cap. VA will replace only the base, die and cap. The die is the main part that most people think of as the Tomb. It includes the north and south faces with wreaths, the west face with the words “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God,” and the east face with the three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory and Valor.

Since the drawings used to create the original Tomb were lost, one of the first steps in the replacement process was to create a blueprint of the Tomb. The Army turned to Direct Dimensions Inc., of Maryland, to capture digital images of the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Using the latest technology, Direct Dimensions recorded the precise specifications of the Tomb. Rather than using video or photographs to create two-dimensional images, laser scanners were used to create an exact three-dimensional model. The scanning picked up barely visible marks and details that video and photographs don't.

The three-dimensional model replaces the original blueprints. Not only will the information be used in contracting for the sculpting of the Tomb, it will also help with the actual sculpting. The three-dimensional model will be loaded into computer-assisted milling machines that use lasers to do the initial sculpting to within one inch of specifications. Then sculptors will complete the finished work by hand.

NCA estimates it will take 18 months before the replacement Tomb is ready for delivery to Arlington National Cemetery. The original Tomb will be donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

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