The Capitol Gang, Part 2

Categories:

Acid rain was first discovered in Sweden in 1872. For years prior to this discovery, marble, know for its beauty and ease of carving, was the stone of choice when it came to carving monumental statues. By 1870, people noticed that many outdoor marble statues were losing their fine details and a black crust was forming on the statues. The problem was caused by the Industrial Revolution. The factories in Europe and America were releasing sulfur and nitrogen compounds into the air which caused the rain to turn acidic. Indeed, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania became so shrouded in smoke that midday seemed like evening. The acid rain was literally washing the marble away while the dirt particles were building up, causing the white monuments to turn black.

Marble statue showing signs of acid rain damage, Mount Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge, MA.

An account of the damage done in Mount Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge, MA was found on page 290 of Building Stones and the Quarry Industry, Chapter VII-Stone Construction in Cities. 

“In Mount Auburn, in Cambridge, marble has been most used for monuments, and there are many fine pieces of statuary made from it; the Italian marble for finer pieces, Vermont marble somewhat, and the pink Tennessee marble…The weather shows its effects at Mount Auburn as elsewhere. Some of the old marble tombs have the roughened surface (by solution of the lime) previously mentioned…In one tomb of a medium coarse white marble, in a course at the top part of the structure, the marble has disintegrated as follows: On the corner pieces and sides the marble cracks almost imperceptibly; along these cracks the cement of the grains (or some of the grains) is slowly dissolved out, leaving the coarse grains, and these finally crumble to powder.”

Marble statue showing signs of acid rain damage, Mount Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge, MA.

The solution many people turned to was granite, but there was a problem there too. Granite, although impervious to acid rain, was much harder to carve than marble. Statue carvers would have to find a very fine grained, strong granite if they were to create the same detail they were able to with marble. 

Fortunately, Westerly found itself perfectly positioned to benefit from these circumstances. As the Industrial Revolution’s wealthy began to demand ever costlier cemetery monuments, the fine grained Westerly blue and white granite, which the United States Bureau of Standards used as the industry standard for its color, fine grain and strength, became unsurpassed and therefore much in demand. Gifted sculptors and carvers were attracted to it in ever increasing numbers, including James Batterson’s Capitol Gang.

Arthur Middleton Webster monument, Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, RI (carved from Smith Granite Company Blue granite by Ed King in 1881)
Byron Smith monument, Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, RI (carved from Smith Granite Company Blue granite by H. Stadler in 1888)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *