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Which monuments will last the longest?

By Dustin Hornsby and Collier Neely
Zinc is a large part of our everyday lives in the contemporary world. Zinc is in the medicine you take to help you fight off the common cold and it is used in galvanizing iron and steel to prevent rusting and corrosion. Like bronze or cast iron, foundries poured molten zinc into a mold of a desired shape; bigger monuments and statues required several pieces. The hollow casts were then carefully attached and painted to give the appearance of stone or bronze. Zinc statuary and ornamentation adorned many county courthouses, buildings and Civil War memorials built between 1870 and 1950, reaching peek in popularity around the turn of the twentieth century.
Zinc can even be found at Oakland Cemetery. Along with statues and architectural ornamentation, foundries also made casts of tomb stones. Oakland has four zinc markers cast by the principle zinc monument makers of the time, The Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
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The company was active from 1875-1912 and known for their product, White Bronze.  Different from other zinc casts, White Bronze was cast zinc with carefully placed, unobtrusive seems and sand blasted, rather than painted, to give the appearance of stone. They produced an abundance of headstones, statues and other monuments that could be customized to one’s liking, with several different stamps and decorative ornamentation.
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Over the years repairs were made to the zinc monuments at Oakland, the most notable repair being to the Watts Monument, an obelisk that fell in the tornado of 2008.
This was the first time the restoration staff needed to repair a zinc monument in the cemetery. The obelisk, a larger monument, was cast in two pieces and anchored to a granite base with ferrous metal pins, over time these pins rusted away leaving the monument unsupported.
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The storm blew the monument over damaging key structural links between the two zinc pieces. The restoration staff immediately noticed that links had bent causing the two pieces to separate. The links are inside of the hollow monument and the restoration staff had to crawl inside the bottom to unbolt and separate the two pieces.
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After separating the pieces, they mounted the lower half back to the granite base using stainless steel pins to prevent future corrosion. Then, they bent the links on both zinc pieces so they would lay flush with each other and easily bolt together.
Now they needed to crawl into the bottom of the monument and bolt the two halves together, how was that going to work?
The Monumental Bronze Company had thought of this. The name and ornamental plates on the base are actually access panels with decorative bolts that required a specific key.  Not having this key, the staff used a little ingenuity. They fashioned a key from a piece of copper pipe by melting soldering wire to create a mold of the bolt. The soldering wire was soft enough to remove the bolts from the panels, but not damage them.
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Through the access panels, the staff was able to rejoin the two pieces. With a few modern modifications and basic maintenance, these metal markers will continue to stand fast and outlast their stone counterparts.

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