The Ottumwa Courier

February 7, 2014

Chief Wapello waits …

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The statue of Chief Wapello will stay indoors a little longer.

Wapello County Supervisor Jerry Parker has been looking after the chief since the statue was brought down by a wind storm in 2012. Winds estimated around 90 mph knocked the chief from a perch atop the Wapello County Courthouse. Though the statue did not plummet to the ground, the damage from hitting the next roof down was bad enough.

"We’ve contracted with Wingers to put him up," Parker said after a county board meeting this week. "They need two warm days and very little wind."

Safety is paramount, not just for "The Chief" but for workers and pedestrians. He said the statue weighs 450 pounds and may have gained weight since the installation of steel bracing inside the sculpture.

That's not too heavy, added Supervisor Steve Siegel, when you consider the Native American figure is 11.5 feet tall and 14 feet tall to the top of the war lance.

"Winger’s is going to try to give us as much notice as possible as they watch the weather," Parker said. "If we can just hit two or three 30-degree days with no wind ..."

The notice ahead of time is not important for the supervisors directly, he said, but because the sculptor wants to be there. Parker said that the steel skeleton is strong, but the skin of the statue is thin, decorative metal. If workers put the hoist straps in the wrong place before lifting the sculpture nearly 100 feet up, the outside of the carefully restored statue will be crushed, bent or otherwise distorted.

There don't appear to be new "Chief Wapello Statues" on the market. This sculpture is one of several identical representations: During the research phase of the repair project, Supervisor Steve Siegel found an identical statue in a late 1800s architectural catalog.

While the statue may not have originally been designed to represent Chief Wapello specifically, it has, for more than 125 years, been used to represent the county's namesake.

The chief is currently reclining in the lobby of the Wapello County Courthouse, in a sort of display/storage situation. Visitors to the courthouse stop to view the locally famous sculpture and occasionally take a photo. He'll be back on his perch overlooking the county someday soon, Parker said.

"We’ve told the lift company to be on notice."

— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark