The Ottumwa Courier

June 3, 2013

Home, sweet home

Chief Wapello returns to courthouse after months of restoration

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Chief Wapello will spend his summer vacation on the first floor of the Wapello County Courthouse.

Nearly one year since he was ripped from his perch atop the courthouse during a high-powered storm, the 119-year-old, 450-pound statue returned home Monday afternoon from a months-long restoration in Omaha, Neb.

During his time at Jensen Conservation Services Inc., Chief Wapello's internal armature was replaced with stainless steel and a number of parts that were damaged or bent from his fall were straightened out, including his moccasins, hands, feathers, face and one of his legs. Rob Jensen, director of Jensen Conservation, previously told the Courier that once the statue was turned over, he also found that the back of the chief's arm, his arrows and his bow had all caved in from the impact.

"It was a mess," Jensen said Monday. "It took some time but he turned out really well. I really do believe that he'll stand on top of your building for a very long time."

The armature runs from the chief's head through his leg and 3 feet into the courthouse. When the 75-mph winds began blasting the statue on June 16, it was more than the armature could take and it snapped, knocking the chief onto the roof of the courthouse.

But, said Wapello County Supervisor Jerry Parker, that sudden snap means part of the old, rusted armature is still stuck in the sleeve on top of the courthouse and will have to be removed before the new armature can slide into the sleeve in a month.

"He was on tour before, so people can see a tremendous difference," Parker said. "The color is not much different from what it was in the beginning, but it is different after weather for 50 years."

The copper color coating "brings out the idiosyncrasies" and detail of the statue, he said, meaning even though the chief will sit five stories above the city, the public should be able to see how intricate the statue really is.

"It's been 60 years since he was down last, and before that it was more than 50 years," he said. "So kids seeing it now will be grandpas and grandmas when they see him down next."

But Jensen said it will likely be longer than that before the statue needs to — or is forced to — come down, since he is now structurally secure with stainless steel rather than the mild steel used the first time.

In total, conserving the statue cost close to $23,000, Jensen said, though the county will not have to pay a dime, since the entire repair and restoration will be covered by insurance.