I\'m Glad the Governor isn\'t working on the budget or anything
Date: Mar 10th, 2005 4:56:46 pm - Subscribe
Mood: intelligent

Eagle Eye View

Cheryl Caswell
Daily Mail staff

Wednesday March 09, 2005

The golden dazzle of the state Capitol dome is an eye-catcher, but few people have ever peered into the eyes of the eagle that is perched on the very top.

John Wiseman is one of them. And he didn't like what was looking back at him. When he climbed to the uppermost realms of the dome -- 292 feet above the ground -- he discovered the majestic bird was in need of help.

"Inside the eyes was a plastic material, kind of like you'd see on a bike reflector," he said. "And one of them was busted out."

So he's going to do his part to assure that even this tiny detail is restored properly.

"We removed one of the eye sockets and gave it to the governor," said Wiseman, president of Charleston-based Wiseman Construction, which is handling the dome refurbishing project.

Gov. Joe Manchin has suggested that he'd like to replace the eagle's eyes with glass from a West Virginia company, possibly Blenko in Milton.

"The whole goal of the project is to get it back to the original," said Lara Ramsburg, communications director for the governor. "Or as close to the original as Cass Gilbert intended.

"He has talked about different glassmakers who could make eyes for the eagle," she said. "There are several who could do that. But he is committed to using West Virginia glass and a West Virginia company to do it."

Wiseman said he'd certainly "like to see something like that."

Ramsburg said it isn't certain yet whether the eagle's eyes will have to be put out for bid, or if the governor will just be able to ask a company to make them. Wiseman said the eyes would probably be glass balls no larger than an inch and a half wide.

Wiseman also found holes in the eagle, and in the dome.

"We're not sure how they got there," he said.

Wiseman said the eagle is made of copper, coated with lead. Workers have stripped it of all previous paint to prepare it for re-gilding.

Not many people have ever scaled the heights of the dome to get a close-up look at the bird. The eagle is perched on a ball, atop a 25-foot bronze spire built on the 34 1/2-foot lantern over the 52-foot-high dome.

It has mostly been inspectors and contractors who have ventured to that uppermost point. Gov. Jay Rockefeller attempted it with some painters and his State Police escort, but stopped below and was satisfied to peer up at the eagle from its base.

Two state photographers visited the eagle during the dome's last re-gilding in the 1980s, and noted one shattered and one missing eye and also a pile of pennies left by an unknown climber before them. But replacing the eyes was overlooked during that last reconstruction project.

The eagle stands more than 5 feet tall and is 3 feet wide at the base, said Jim Burgess, project director for the state. The tips of the wings are about a foot apart at their top.

The eagle was part of the original dome designed by Cass Gilbert and constructed in 1932.

According to research by Swanke, Hayden, Connell & partners of New York City, the architectural firm assisting with the dome refurbishing project, the state Capitol dome was modeled after the Dome of the Invalides in Paris -- a home for disabled soldiers built between 1670 and 1706 for Louis XIV.

That dome was embellished with French and Catholic heraldic emblems including a cross on top. Since the West Virginia capitol was a democratic government building, not a religious one, different embellishments were used.

The Capitol dome reflects Roman and American symbolism, including American flags in relief on the panels. The eagle -- crafted by the Miller and Doing Company of Brooklyn, N.Y. -- was part of that symbolism.

When that company went out of business, it sold its molds to the W.F. Norman Co. in Missouri. But Neal Quitno said that while his company has five eagle molds from W.F. Norman's collection, none of them match the one on the Capitol dome.
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