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For Now, Marble for Cemetery Blocked
Monday, October 29, 2007

It turns out that retired Colorado car dealer John Haines may be stuck with the $31,000 block of marble he's been wanting to give Arlington National Cemetery as a possible replacement for the Tomb of the Unknowns monument.

John C. Metzler Jr., the cemetery's superintendent, said last week that the cemetery would probably not take such a raw piece of stone if officials decide to replace the cracked 48-ton monument.

As the debate over whether to replace or repair the monument drags on, one option had been to acquire a block of the scarce marble until the dust settled. Four years ago, Haines ordered one cut from the same quarry that produced the original. He planned to give it to the cemetery as a gift.

But as the argument flared, died down and recently flared up again, the stone has sat in Marble, Colorado, awaiting a resolution. And while it sat, things changed in Washington.

Metzler's desire to have the monument replaced with a more pristine stone drew opposition from preservationists, who argued that the original was historic. Last month, Congress got involved and is about to ponder an amendment that would, for the moment, postpone any replacement.

And the idea of acquiring a block for future use also has faded.

"Initially, I thought that was an option we could consider," Metzler said last week. "In more discussion with more people who have guided me through this process, I have learned a lot more about this, and it's certainly clear to me today that there's a lot more than just buying a block of marble.
 

"The transporting of this solid piece of marble is something that is very difficult," he said. "It's not something that could be done by [just] any transport company. Obviously, the artisans' work is something that would take a year's time to do or longer. . . . Then you've got to transport it to the tomb itself.

"All of that has the potential for failure or the potential for some damage to occur in the process," Metzler said. "So just buying the block of marble doesn't get us to where we want to be at the end of the day."

The tomb dates to 1921, when the body of an unidentified U.S. soldier from World War I was laid to rest inside the tomb's massive underground vault.

Five years later, Congress authorized a monument to sit atop the vault. The stone -- one solid block -- was cut from a quarry near Marble, and the sarcophagus-shaped monument was set in place in 1931.

Reached yesterday, Haines said of Metzler's comments: "If that's what they want to do, that's what they want to do."

Haines said he can probably sell the marble and maybe make a little profit in the exchange.

He said he was just trying to save the government money and pay tribute to the men and women in uniform the tomb honors.

"Nobody needs to apologize," he said.

Posted: 5 November 2007