The newly restored Civil War Monument is back home in Oak Bluffs. The statue of a soldier standing atop a pedestal is as handsome as it was when it was first built, worthy of another century.
The monument was reassembled last week and while there is still much to do, the restoration project is nearly finished.
A formal rededication of the Soldiers' Memorial Fountain will take place on Friday, August 17, just before the start of the annual fireworks. The monument will be 110 years old in August, a fitting time, organizers said, for a ceremony.
A great deal has changed since it was hauled off-Island last October.
The soldier is no longer standing ankle deep in cement. He has a new hand, a new rifle, and he is freshly painted.
Jim Brown, treasurer of Soldiers' Memorial Fountain Restoration Inc., said on Sunday the monument is in better shape than when it was built. New technological improvements, the use of stainless steel inside the soldier and in the hardware, represent a truly significant improvement over what was there. The estimated cost of restoration is $80,000, paid for from private donations and some federal funds.
Restoration was done by Mark Rabinowitz, a conservator with a studio in Brooklyn. While the zinc soldier was restored in Brooklyn; the cast-iron pedestal was put together in Talladega, Ala.
The story about the restoration of the old sculpture is an unveiling of history. The monument had been repainted 22 times over the years. It has now been restored to the original color when it was first put on display, a bronze brown.
Based on their research, the committee found that the soldier once fell off the pedestal sometime in the 1940s, presumably during a hurricane.
In the effort to return the zinc soldier to its plinth, someone had put bolts through the feet and poured a block of cement over it to hold the solder in place, hence the ankle-deep cement.
The soldier was missing a hand, and had received a fiberglass one as a temporary measure. The original rifle was long gone, and someone had fashioned together a wooden replacement. The band on the hat was also missing.
Mr. Brown said the restoration team used an identical monument in North Kingston, R.I., to get a mold of the original right hand and gun.
Part of the problem associated with having a zinc monument was the chemical reaction between the materials. The sculpture was in terrible shape by the time Mr. Rabinowitz received it. To make it all more stable, he installed a new stainless steel armature inside the soldier, removed the cement, restored the zinc and separated the chemically reactive materials with layers of neoprene.
There are at least 29 separate cast iron pieces to the base, and that doesn't even count the soldier. Some missing pieces were recast. Restorers were able to recreate the familiar signature of the manufacturer, J.W. Fiske, at the base of the soldier and at the base of the pedestal.
The cracked bowl at the foot of the pedestal was repaired by brazing.
The foundation restoration committee is chaired by S. David Wilson of Oak Bluffs, an English teacher at the regional high school, a man who would prefer to work quietly behind the scenes. Also involved in the project was Jim Nicholson.
The soldier came back to the Vineyard after its long winter trip last February and was placed in storage. Last Wednesday the base arrived on a 30-foot flatbed truck. On Thursday, the base was anchored in position. A crew from the town highway department provided a front end loader and forklift. Goodale Construction Co. provided a boom truck. Mr. Rabinowitz was on hand to supervise and the heavy work was done by 4 p.m.
There is still plumbing work to do underground: When the project is complete, the monument will have running water.
When it was first installed 110 years ago, the monument stood in Farland Square, near where a visitor's center stands today, at the foot of Circuit avenue and near the Flying Horses. The running water was for horses and other pets. There won't be many horses using it now.
Yesterday, Mr. Rabinowitz had high praise for the Vineyard community for supporting this project. He said he has done restoration work for other places, but this is an exceptionally interesting monument for an exceptional community. "The people of Martha's Vineyard should be proud of themselves for the commitment to restore this landmark. This is a landmark, an important feature in your cultural landscape."
Mr. Rabinowitz said he was particularly impressed by the dedication of the committee that went about raising the funds to restore the monument.
Mr. Brown said an effort to restore the sculpture came naturally: "This is our history. This is our connection to the past. A lot of people were involved in this. My son and daughter were involved. Support came from a lot of people of varied interests."
Contributions to the restoration came from as far away as the Phillipines, from a World War II veterans affairs group. The Save Outdoor Sculpture/Heritage Preservation gave $15,000. A contribution of $20,000 was given by a private donor. Fundraising included coins from children. The fundraising effort was even taken to the street: For two years the committee to restore the monument had a booth at the town's harbor festival and at Tivoli Day.