Quarrying the perfect 56-ton block
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
In Honored Glory
An American Soldier
Known But To God
– Inscription, Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery
In 1921, the remains of an unknown soldier from World War I were exhumed from an American cemetery in France. This soldier’s remains were ceremoniously interred in Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 11, 1921, in what became known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This monument was to be a solemn and striking tribute to the American servicemen who died in service to their county but whose remains could not be identified. Although this monument was not complete in 1921, by 1929 Yule Marble, quarried from the Crystal River town of Marble, was selected as the material to be used in this important memorial.
Yule Marble, first quarried in the 1880s, became an elegant material used in buildings nationwide. By the early 1900s buildings such as the Salt Lake Stock and Mining Exchange, the Cheesman Memorial in Denver, the Fidelity Bond and Mortgage Building in New York, and the Citizens National Bank in Glenwood Springs all contained the finishing touches of Yule Marble. Perhaps the most notable project was the incorporation of Yule Marble in the construction of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in the 1910s.
Only one place in the quarry contained colorless, blemish-free marble. Marble resident Elmer Bair recalled in his book “Elmer Bair’s Story” that three men worked for a year to quarry at the time the largest block ever quarried from a pit quarry. When the stone was finally removed and inspected it was rejected due to a bit of color called “Colorado Cloud.” Work began again immediately in the same location in the quarry to bring out a second stone.
A year later, in late January 1931, the perfect 56-ton stone emerged from the quarry. Reinforced hoists brought the block to a specially constructed rail car designed to drag on the rails to assist in braking. It took two days for front trolley engineer Elmer Bair and back trolley motorman John Fenton to bring the block from the quarry to Marble. The only mishap was a burnout of wheels of the rail car carrying the block. Elmer Bair later wrote, “Many times I have been asked if I was uneasy about hauling the marble from the quarry to the town of Marble. My only concern was readying everything so that the bosses were satisfied and we could get on with it.”
The unfinished block remained under guard in the mill yard until Feb. 8, 1931, when it began the rail trip to the Vermont Mining Co., owner of the quarry at Marble, for finishing. On Nov. 11, 1932, the finished memorial was set at Arlington National Cemetery.
Weather has taken its toll on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, now known as the Tomb of the Unknowns. Cracks have appeared in the monument. Debate has centered over repair or replacement of the monument. Whatever the decision – preservation or replacement – the residents of a small town named Marble proudly produced a monument that provides pause and reflection to all who visit it.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Winter hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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