Marble slab awaits word from Arlington – Area quarry hopes block will be part of Tomb of the Unknowns

A 118,000-pound block of smooth, white stone is sitting on a flatbed trailer in the tiny town of Marble, awaiting a much-anticipated trip to Washington, D.C.

But the hunk of marble may wait awhile.

Workers at the Colorado Yule Marble Quarry, high in the mountains above the Crystal River Valley, hope the rock will replace the cracked stone at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. About 75 years ago the marble for the original monument came from this same mine.

“We think it would be an honor to provide the block,” said quarry spokeswoman Kimberly Perrin, who has watched over the past three years as workers searched for the perfect stone.

But before the rock is accepted for the monument, the Army must first decide whether to replace the original monument, said Mike Nacincik of the National Cemetery Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We expect an in-depth, thorough study,” Nacincik said. “It won't be rushed, so they can make the best decision regarding this historic piece of marble and architecture that has a high value of meaning to the Army and the nation.”

A spokesperson from Arlington National Cemetery did not return a call seeking comment about how long the study would take. In the meantime, quarry workers worry that the company that owns the mine, Canada-based Polycor Inc., will want to stop waiting and cut up the enormous block to be sold in pieces.

Perrin said the quarry's only competitor for a block is in Vermont – not long ago they thought they had found a perfect block of marble for the tomb, but Army representatives inspecting the stone disagreed. The quarry workers went ahead and sliced up the stone to be sold separately before finding out that the Army was reconsidering its initial rejection.

“It takes a lot of effort to get a stone this big,” Perrin said. Workers at the Yule Marble Quarry cut two large blocks of the rock out of the hillside that weren't up to the tomb's standards before finding this one.

Like the original marble block from 75 years ago, this block includes some “high quality gold veining” that runs horizontally around it, Perrin said. The vein of marble workers are mining actually runs at a 54-degree angle, she said, so they cut a large block out of an area and then reshaped it by taking the corners off.

What's left is a block with horizontal gold veins. This particular block is 12 by 8 by 6 feet, and weighs 118,665 pounds.

“It's not as big as a house, but it's heavier,” Perrin said. The block, which would serve as the die, or center block of the tomb, costs about $40,000.

Glenwood Springs resident John Haines has already committed to footing that bill up to $70,000 – to pay for the die and the top and bottom portions of the monument. But for now, a lot like the block itself, Haines is waiting to see what the future holds.

“I'm donating this for what [the monument] stands for – when you look at what those people gave, I said, ‘I can do something like this, it's not a big deal,'” Haines said. “What's frustrating is that I'm trying to give this piece of stone to Arlington, but I can't really give it yet.”

Haines said he even spoke to a representative at Arlington National Cemetery about the possibility of purchasing the stone to keep it from being sold in different pieces by Polycor. He said the representative, cemetery Superintendent John Metzler, told him not to move forward with that plan.

“He said there's no way I should buy that rock to set it aside, because there's no guarantee, and he has no good feeling that this project will ever go any further,” Haines said.

But at the VA's National Cemetery Administration, Nacincik said if the Army chooses to replace the stone, it would first consider any donations of materials and labor.

“If someone were to donate marble for the project to the Army, it would be up to them to decide if the marble is acceptable, and if it was, the Army would give it to the VA,” he said. “The VA is responsible for the manufacturing and transportation of the finished product to Arlington.”

Without donations that are acceptable, the VA would solicit bids for acceptable marble, he said. Although Haines' offer stands, Nacincik said on Friday that he wasn't aware of any offers of donated marble.

The Colorado Yule Marble Quarry's prospective stone for the tomb was quarried late last year and was kept inside the quarry until it started to impede mining operations, Perrin said. The original piece was more than 300,000 pounds before it was trimmed down.

“The rock would be machined down within an inch or two of the size it's supposed to be, and then the rest is hand carved – it takes 18 months,” Haines said. “So if they're going to do this, they need to get going on it so we can see it in our lifetimes.”

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