NEW ORLEANS - Archival photos show when the Robert E. Lee monument was removed from its pedestal for maintenance and restoration in January 1953. Estimated to be around 7,000 pounds the photo shows just how large the statue is as one man climbed up the bronze leg and another sat atop Lee’s shoulder.
“They didn’t seem to really be knowledgeable of how the monument was constructed or what the problem was” said Daniel Hammer Director at the Historic New Orleans Collection.
Hammer explained that from archived news reports they know that the commissioner of parks and buildings at the time believed the statue was leaning so badly that it was at risk of falling over. In order to fix it, they had to figure it out on the job.
“They got up there and investigated the situation” said Hammer.
When workers reached the top they found that the statue was attached by bolts and it could be unscrewed and lifted off and that’s when they also discovered the problem.
Hammer said “They saw that the brick base of the column and its foundation were in bad shape and were causing the whole shaft of the column to list because the whole foundation was sinking on one side.”
Local historians tell us that actually under the base is a way to access a spiral staircase inside of this obelisk that will take you all the way to the top.
In an architectural rendering taken from information collected by the Works Progress Administration in the late 1930’s. You can actually see where the spiral staircase starts at the bottom underneath the base.
“It’s really interesting to think about this as something that’s been dealt with before from an engineering point of view and fortunately we have at least some information about how they dealt with it” said Hammer.