Discover Copper Online

Winter 2002

Durable Bronze Replaces Vulnerable Zinc

Original zinc statues from the Green-Wood Cemetery showing severe damage from vandalism and pitting. Original zinc statues from the Green-Wood Cemetery showing severe damage from vandalism and pitting. The statues have been recast in bronze.

For statues, bronze outperforms zinc. After the Civil War, many of the statues commemorating war heroes were cast of zinc, which then cost only a sixth as much as bronze. Some of those zinc statues have deteriorated so much they've had to be recast in durable bronze.

The most notable of these replacements was of the monument at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Four life-size statues representing the infantry, cavalry, engineers and artillerymen were recently recast.

According to Carol Grissom, a conservator at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the original statues were severely pitted because of electrolytic action between the zinc and copper plated on them. They had been plated to give the impression they were made of prestigious bronze.

Grissom, who is writing a book about the thousand or so zinc statues in the nation, claims that zinc statues that were not plated have stood up better. In addition to the pitting, the Green-Wood statues also suffered because of severe vandalism and because their internal steel armatures had rusted. The armatures were necessary because zinc is not strong enough to stand on its own.

Copies of the four statues were erected in the late 19th Century in White Plains and Ossining, New York; Clinton and Lawrence, Massachusetts; and Wilmington, North Carolina. Other copies were also erected at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York, in 1866, three years before they were installed at the Green-Wood Cemetery. Efforts to determine the sculptor's name have failed.

Recast and Patinated

The statues were recast and chemically patinated at the Modern Art Foundry, Astoria, Queens, New York, at a cost of $35,000 each. In addition, four plaques mounted between the statues on the 35-foot-high, central stone tower were also recast - the originals had been vandalized. All were cast in "statuary" bronze from Kuhl Metals, Kearny, New Jersey. Additional bronze copies of the statues may become available at the discretion of the cemetery, according to Jeffrey Spring, vice president of the foundry, which also cast the "spiders" by Louise Bourgeois depicted in Copper Topics No. 92.

Among the 600,000 persons buried at Green-Wood Cemetery are hundreds of those who fell during the Civil War, including two New Yorkers who served the South as generals. Boss Tweed, the notoriously corrupt politician who may have had the original zinc statues deceptively plated in copper, according to Ms. Grissom, is also buried there.

Green-Wood Cemetery: 718-768-7300
Kuhl Metals: 201-998-8300
Modern Art Foundry: 718-728-2030

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