Tuckahoe Park’s Kennedy monument to come back

It was the kind of drama that often happens in construction work butisn’t often dramatized.

On Monday, a crew under direction of local art conservator John Ritainstalled a 75-pound granite plinth (the square box at the base), then a 400-pound refurbished column on the foundation block of the John F. Kennedy memorial in Tuckahoe Park — in preparation for resetting the Kennedy bust itself later this week.

Despite — or because of — the weight of the pieces, it was ticklish work to guide a rod projecting through the column into a hole in the foundation stone, to fit the base ring of the column into the granite plinth, to release the column from the pressurized hold of a homemade wooden cradle suspended from a backhoe bucket and to do it all while ensuring the safety of several workers handling the cradle and within the 20-minute setting time of epoxy cement in the hole of the foundation stone.

When it was over, Rita walked away, torso swaying slightly, then hurled his gloves aside underhanded, in a gesture of relief.

“Got her,” he said.

Afterward, Rita sat on a nearby bench and reflected.

“There’s always an anxiousness,” he said. “Your blood pressure is elevated.”

Still, it went smoothly.

He would have liked to do a “dry run” — minus the epoxy — to ensure the pieces would all fit together.

But he felt that would have been too much to ask of the crew, which comprised employees of the city Public Works Department, the Central Pennsylvania National Guard and Veterans Association and his own associates.

So he “bet” that the six months he spent thinking about Monday’s procedure was enough to ensure success.

“Now you can sleep,” a member of the crew said to Rita as some of the men prepared to leave.

“That was probably the hardest part,” said Ken Tedora, a member of the Veterans Association and leader of that group’s multi-year effort to restore monuments throughout Blair County.

On Wednesday, Rita plans to install the 150-pound marble “capital” atop the column, then, on Thursday or Friday, the 75-pound marble pedestal and the 200-pound marble bust.

Rita restored all of the marble pieces except the plinth, which was replaced and whose replacement is granite, a much more durable stone.

Marble is porous and susceptible to infiltration of pollen, algae and moisture, which causes deterioration when it freezes, according to Rita.

One of the challenges of the Kennedy monument restoration was the column, originally equipped with a steel pin that only penetrated a short distance into the bottom.

The replacement rod is stainless steel to prevent corrosion, and goes all the way through to ensure stability.

Rita drilled the column freehand, starting from the top and going most of the way through, then completing the bore from the bottom to ensure against spalling of the marble and to ensure that the hole at the bottom would be centered.

He was relieved when the bores matched up.

In addition to the epoxy compound for setting the column in the foundation stone, Rita used thinset to fill craters in the foundation stone and silicone caulk to help seal the edges.

He’ll finish the joint between the plinth and foundation stone with the epoxy, designed for marble repair.

When the compound hardens and is sanded, it looks just like marble, he said.

He’ll attach the capital to the column rod, which projects from the top of the column by several inches.

He’ll attach the pedestal to the capital with the single previously installed pin that had been properly made, he said.

And he’ll attach the bust to the pedestal with a new aluminum rod, to replace the old one, which was a piece of water pipe.

All those connections will be cemented with epoxy.

Plans call for a drape over the bust, pending a dedication of the monument around the time of the anniversary of Kennedy’s death in November, Tedora said.

Tedora would like eventually to shield the monument and protect the marble with a half-dome, although that is estimated to cost more than $20,000.

The association hasn’t yet expressed support for that idea, he said.

If it happens, it would require fundraising, as the association doesn’t “have that kind of money,” he said.