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Published: Tuesday, 6/9/2009

(Lady) Justice back in place at Wyandot County courthouse

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

UPPER SANDUSKY, Ohio - Christina Swinehart gasped and pointed as the 10-foot-tall Lady Justice began making its way back to its perch atop the Wyandot County Courthouse Monday morning.

"There she goes. There she goes," Ms. Swinehart said. "Oh my gosh. Please don't drop her."

In less than a minute, the familiar copper statue had been hoisted along a cable from the courthouse roof to the able hands of workers with Midstate Construction Co. of Marion waiting in a wooden crow's nest erected for the occasion.

Lady Justice had spent much of the winter in their shop to undergo what Commissioner Mike Wheeler likes to call "some copper cosmetology."

The statue of Lady Justice is hauled to the top of the courthouse dome, where workers from Midstate Construction wait to secure it in place. It has held its lofty perch atop the stately clock tower since 1899. The statue of Lady Justice is hauled to the top of the courthouse dome, where workers from Midstate Construction wait to secure it in place. It has held its lofty perch atop the stately clock tower since 1899.
MARK DECKARD _ Enlarge

"This is something special," Ms. Swinehart said. "We missed her."

Since 1899, Lady Justice has stood atop the stately clock tower on the stone courthouse, which is clearly a source of pride for Wyandot County residents. County commissioners are planning to make $1.3 million in improvements to the building's exterior in a 10-phase plan that started at the top with Lady Justice herself.

"We love our courthouse," said Common Pleas Judge Kathleen Aubry. "I am supportive of maintaining what you have, and we have had any number of out-of-town attorneys come into this courthouse and marvel first at its beauty and second at how well it's been kept."

The interior features a dramatic three-story staircase with a stained glass dome overhead, original doors and woodwork, and Judge Aubry's vintage courtroom, which was featured in the film The Shawshank Redemption.

Workers secure the base of the statue, which had spent the winter undergoing 'copper cosmetology.' It had been riddled with bullet holes and was missing some key parts. The restoration cost $22,050, largely paid for with donations. Workers secure the base of the statue, which had spent the winter undergoing 'copper cosmetology.' It had been riddled with bullet holes and was missing some key parts. The restoration cost $22,050, largely paid for with donations.
MARK DECKARD _ Enlarge

The exterior is showing its age, especially in and around the clock tower.

Commissioner Steve Seitz said removing the rusty coloration on the tower and metal spouting around it is "the next big thing. The plan is to fix things from the top down, and we're doing it so that everything we've done won't have to be re-done."

Commissioners have not set aside money for the work but plan to do it in phases as the money becomes available, said Commissioner Mike Wheeler.

"We want to halt the deterioration first," he said.

A copper standing-seam roof was replaced before Lady Justice was reinstalled.

Doug Hooper of Midstate Contractors said the statue was riddled with bullet holes - "both entry and exit wounds," he said - and was missing some key parts.

The scales she holds in her hand had blown off several years ago.

Half of her sword was gone; the other half had been welded back into place.

A large section of her hip where her skirt hangs was gone.

"It was a 14-by-14 section that was completely gone," Mr. Hooper said. "Birds would fly in through the hole."

He marveled at the detail that went into the statue, which was manufactured by the W.H. Mullins Co. of Salem, Ohio. Lady Justice has toenails and fingernails, eyebrows, braided hair - numerous details undecipherable from her 132-foot perch on the courthouse.

The restoration of Lady Justice, which cost $22,050, was largely paid for with more than $16,000 in donations, a sizable chunk of which came from the Shawshank Redemption Reunion, a nonprofit group formed by locals who were as extras in the 1993 movie.

"She's priceless to us," Mr. Wheeler said of the towering Lady Justice.

Several residents, old and young, gathered to watch the statue go back into place.

Tammy Clifford was there with her 8-year-old son, Trevor, and his friend Levi Ashbrook, also 8. The boys' second-grade class from South Elementary had taken a field trip to the courthouse before school was out to see Lady Justice up close.

The statue was on display at the foot of the grand staircase for about a month. More than 1,400 visitors signed their names on a list that was placed in a time capsule and tucked inside the statue.

Jim Swartz, 67, was taking pictures of the event yesterday. He said he's interested in history and proud of the care his county has taken of its courthouse.

"It's a pretty close county. People are close," he said. "In Upper Sandusky, they take pride in their town."

Earl Ruth, 83, a former maintenance worker at the courthouse, stopped with his family to watch the re-installation of Lady Justice.

"I'd hate to see them tear down our courthouse," he said, adding that he thinks the public would step forward to stop any such talk. "I think so. I hope so."

Commissioners said they are committed to preserving what their ancestors built in 1899 for the sum total of $199,740.

"We have to preserve the courthouse," Commissioner Joyce Morehart said matter-of-factly.

Former Commissioner Ed Kuenzli, who served on the board for more than 14 years, said county leaders have remained committed to the landmark, which still houses most county offices and the courts.

"It's been ongoing for a lot of years," Mr. Kuenzli said. "The things that have taken place are because of the people here and the people out in the county. It's been maintained because of the interest people have."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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