TAMPA — So how do you move a 14-ton, 32-foot-tall, century-old monument made of marble?
The short answer: very carefully, in more than two dozen pieces, over several days.
Crews are scheduled to begin work this week to disassemble Memoria In Aeterna, the 106-year-old Confederate war memorial that has stood in front of the old county courthouse on Pierce Street since 1952. From there, it will be trucked to a storage center until its new site is ready at a small cemetery owned by the Brandon family, the namesake of the east Hillsborough community, is ready.
It will take crews several days just to take apart the monument, said Josh Bellotti, the county's director of real estate and facilities services.
"It's a deliberate and meticulous process," Bellotti said.
The monument is comprised of two Confederate soldiers — one facing north, upright and heading to battle and the other facing south, his clothes tattered as he heads home humbled by war. Between them is a 32-foot tall obelisk with the image of a Confederate flag chiseled into it. All the pieces are held together with grout and sit on a base of four steps. They weigh about 32,000 pounds.
The county hired a general contractor, Tampa-based Energy Services and Products Corp., to oversee the $280,000 project. The company has put together a team of experts that includes mechanical and structural engineers and a stone mason from New York who has worked on projects from Carnegie Hall to Tampa's Riverwalk, said president and CEO Tony Padilla.
The team, Padilla said, has experience "lifting things that are very delicate, in very small steps and with a lot of care.
"We want to make sure this thing goes well and without a hitch," he said.
And there can be hitches, as Manatee County officials discovered last month when a Confederate obelisk monument on the courthouse grounds toppled and broke in half while it was being moved. Officials called it a clean break that could be repaired, according to the Bradenton Herald.
Memoria In Aeterna was originally erected on the southwest corner of Franklin and Lafayette streets in 1911 by the Tampa chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederate States of America and was moved to its current location in 1952 following completion of the county courthouse.
A bitter battle to move the monument has dragged on for months. Last month, the County Commission conditioned its relocation on public contributions of $140,000 to cover half the estimated cost of the project. The money poured in within 24 hours. On Thursday, crews removed the temporary plywood shroud that has covered the monument since then and erected a chain-link fence around a de-construction site.
Workers will first remove the two soldiers, cutting through the grout that holds them to the monument's base. Then, they will pull apart or cut the obelisk at roughly its midpoint, where an existing collar and pin system keep the upper and lower sections together. The pieces will be braced during the work.
"We just want to make sure we don't allow it to rock or tilt," Bellotti said.
Workers will then cut and remove the base and steps. All told, the monument will be separated into 26 individual pieces that will be lowered onto a flatbed truck and moved to another location, where they will be inspected, cleaned and, if necessary, repaired.
Meanwhile, crews will be securing permits for the cemetery site and laying a concrete foundation there. Surveys using ground-penetrating radar recently uncovered several unmarked graves at the cemetery, but there are a number of clear options there for the monument's final resting place, Bellotti said.
The county's current schedule calls for reassembly to begin as early as Oct. 23; it will likely be complete around mid-November.
David McCallister, commander of the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and one of the leading opponents of the county's decision to move the monument, said moving the monument to storage and then to the cemetery doubles the risk of damage.
McCallister pointed to the Manatee County monument damage as a cautionary tale and said he has a theory for why the county isn't waiting until the cemetery site is ready.
"I think it's to kowtow to the agitation demanding immediate removal," he said, "and that's unseemly."
By the end of October, the site where the statue sits now will be covered in a fresh patch of sod.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.