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Old Ben on the move in Chambersburg

July 08, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Painted a pale green and its features rotted, the statue of Ben Franklin looked more like Ben Frankenstein when it was lowered from atop the clock tower of the Franklin County Courthouse 13 years ago.

The restored 8-foot figure of the county's namesake stopped traffic Wednesday morning as a crew of movers from Philadelphia rolled it across Lincoln Way East from the courthouse to the Heritage Center. There the 139-year-old statue will be on display above the main floor of the old marble bank building, now being readied as a museum and visitors center.

The statue, insured for $200,000 by the county, was shrouded in Bubble Wrap to protect it and its gold leaf surface during the move.

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"We actually had a one-day rider on the policy for today ... in the event that anything happened" during the move, said Franklin County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott. The move cost about $2,200 and was paid for with money from the county's travel and tourism fund, he said.

While a hand cart was used to muscle the 300-pound statue across the street, moving it a dozen or more feet straight up to a second floor walkway required a special hoist because the statue was too big to carry up the stairs, Elliott said.

Since its restoration, the statue stood just inside the front doors of the old courthouse, but rarely was seen by the public because the entrance was locked up for security purposes several years ago.

It will now be the centerpiece of the Heritage Center, standing on a rotating pedestal, said David Sciamanna, executive director of the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce.

During the day, the statue will look inward over the displays in the center. At night, a motorized turntable in the pedestal will turn its illuminated visage toward the street where it will gaze out through a full-length window, Elliott said.

Noting that Franklin's statue looked down on the county for more than a century, Elliott said it now was fitting to have it look down from the center, rather than be hidden in an unused part of the courthouse.

"It's finally bringing history to the forefront ... in a more accessible manner," said Paul Cullinane, the director of Downtown Chambersburg Inc.

Carved in 1865 from long leaf pine by sculptor Frederick Mayer of Pittsburgh, Ben Franklin adorned the top of the courthouse, exposed to the elements and pigeons, for 126 years before the county decided it had had enough.

"He's all new from his knees down," said Elmer Young of Chambersburg, one of the four men who did the restoration more than a decade ago. That was because the statue's rotted legs, clad in lead, were left behind when the statue came down, he said.

"He was a sad-looking fellow when he came down," Young said. He and Ernie Cowan of Chambersburg built the new pedestal, Young said.

Emmert Whitaker of Waynesboro, Pa., John McClellan of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., and the late Clarence Harbaugh of Rouzerville, Pa., worked with Young on the restoration, which included putting 50 pounds of wood putty into the badly cracked body, along with a metal rod to hold it together.

The statue depicts Franklin with his left hand on a pedestal, a scroll beneath his hand representing the Declaration of Independence. In his right hand, he holds a walking stick that Young said was made during the restoration.

When the statue stood on top of the courthouse, the right hand held Franklin's most famous invention - the lightning rod, he said.

That functioning lightning rod is still up on the clock tower, now clutched in the hand of a fiberglass Franklin, the cast for which was made from the original statue.

Mayer carved the statue for the courthouse, which was rebuilt the year after Confederate raiders burned it and most of the town on July 31, 1864. This year's ChambersFest, which begins Friday, July 16, marks the 140th anniversary of the raid and the town's subsequent rebuilding.

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