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9 May 2005
Quarry seeks stone for Arlington
By BILL McKEOWN
Courtesy of the Colorado Springs, Gazette

The new Canadian owners of the Yule Marble Quarry near Aspen say they will continue the search for the perfect block of marble to replace the cracking Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

Quebec-based Polycor Inc., which bought the lease to the quarry a year ago from Colorado geologist Rex Loesby, will continue its search for a blemish-free block of white marble deep in Treasure Mountain, executive Normand Girard said.

But Loesby said it isn’t a sure thing that Arlington will accept marble from the same quarry that supplied the original stone for the tomb.

Loesby, who remains a consultant with Polycor, said the Department of the Army has decided it must seek bids for the marble from quarries across the country. The bid specifies that the marble be as similar as possible to the original stone — but not necessarily the same.

Loesby said one quarry in Vermont might be able to supply a marble of similar quality, but it won’t be the same bright-white stone with gold veining that came out of Treasure Mountain in 1931.

Army officials could not be reached for comment, and Loesby said he doesn’t know whether they have decided when they’ll choose the winning bidder.

The monument honors those soldiers killed in America’s wars whose bodies were never identified. The tomb was dedicated in 1932 and is guarded around the clock by soldiers of the Army’s 3rd Infantry.

Two horizontal cracks appeared in the tomb’s walls in the 1940s and have spread completely around the monument. A cosmetic patch job was attempted in 1989, but a 1990 study determined the tomb should be replaced.

Loesby reopened the mine in 1990, after it had been inactive for 50 years. In 2001, the search for the replacement marble began.

A couple of times, miners used high-tech saws to free huge blocks of marble, only to find flaws on the interior of the stone.

The hunt for the perfect marble took a back seat when the quarry lost a contract to supply headstone marble to the Veterans Administration, a deal that accounted for 70 percent of sales.

Loesby had to cut his work force from 15 to seven before selling his lease and other assets to Polycor, which operates marble quarries in Canada and Georgia. The quarry land has long been owned by OMYA Inc.

Girard said his firm has made a large investment in mine operations, bringing the work force back to 12 employees. He said the more solid financial footing has allowed the quarry to resume the search for the tomb’s marble, which would probably be worth about $30,000.

Loesby said the mine won’t try to cut out the perfect block of marble until it is sure it has won the Arlington contract.

A retired Glenwood Springs auto dealer has pledged to cover some of the the cost of the stone, and Loesby said Polycor’s bid on the tomb marble will reflect that donation. If the Yule Marble Quarry is selected, a team of Western Slope sculptors hopes to be chosen to reproduce the wreaths and pilasters of the original sarcophagus.

THE TOMB

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, also known as the Tomb of the Unknowns because it never has been named officially, is in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

The tomb and the grave of President John F. Kennedy are the two most visited sites at the cemetery, which attracts 4 million people a year.

The tomb is made from seven pieces of marble quarried in Colorado, weighing a combined 79 tons. It was completed and opened to the public April 9, 1932, at a cost of $48,000.

Three unknown servicemen from World War I, World War II and the Korean conflict are buried at the tomb. The body of an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War was disinterred May 14, 1998, after it was identified as belonging to Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie, an Air Force Academy graduate.

THE QUARRY

The Yule Marble Quarry, where the marble for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was mined in 1931, is high in the mountains above the town of Marble, about 30 miles south of Carbondale.

The quarry opened in 1905. Soon, more than 1,500 people were laboring in the quarry and the marble fabrication mill in the town. The quarry was bought by the Vermont Marble Co. in 1925 and shut down at the start of World War II.

In 1990, the quarry was reopened, operating sporadically. In 2004, Canadian-based Polycor Inc. took over operations.

The quarry has supplied marble for the Lincoln Memorial, the Colorado Statehouse and Denver International Airport.

THE MARBLE

The stone is made up of shellfish and fish bones that settled to the bottom of ancient oceans.

The bones were reconstituted into limestone under heat and pressure. Impurities cause the veining in marble.

The marble at the Yule Marble Quarry is known worldwide for its whiteness, its delicate gold and gray veining, and its ability to be carved easily without shattering.

Posted: 24 May 2005