August 25, 1966
THE TASK OF THE GRANITE CUTTERS FOR THE GRAVESITE OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY
Mr. MUSKIE. Mr. President, last Sunday, President Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Pearson laid the cornerstone of the new visitors’ center building at the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park on Campobello Island, New Brunswick.
The granite stone was a symbol of the friendliness and cooperation of the occasion, because the cornerstone was a gift to the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park Commission from the Deer Isle Granite Corp. of Stonington, Maine.
The corporation’s gift was especially appropriate. The stone was cut from a quarry on the Maine coast which President Franklin D. Roosevelt loved to sail and swim when he vacationed at Campobello Island.
The gift was especially meaningful to me because the stone was cut from the same quarry and by the same men who are providing the granite for President John F. Kennedy’s graveside, and because President Kennedy shared President Roosevelt’s zest for Maine’s coastal waters.
In last Sunday’s Portland Sunday Telegram, a feature story by Columnist Bill Caldwell describes the men who have cut the granite for the Kennedy gravesite, their love of the "Kennedy job," and the hardships they have endured on the job.
I ask unanimous consent that Mr. Caldwell’s story appear in the RECORD at this time.
There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows
[From the Portland (Maine) Telegram, Aug. 21, 1966]
MAINE COMPLETES A TRULY MONUMENTAL TASK
(By Bill Caldwell)
Twenty-five deadweight tons of dusty pink and gray granite will be loaded tenderly onto a low bed trailer truck at Stonington in the next few days.
The last 50 such trailer loads, it will include the final inscription stone to wend its way from its birthplace, tiny Crotch Island in Penobscot Bay, to its last resting place, the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington, Va.
This last load, like the others that have gone before, will carry with it the pride of the 100 men who have quarried it all -- a total of 1,500 Maine stones together weighing more than 2 million pounds.
But it will leave behind a very special kind of sadness; the sadness that comes from completing a truly monumental job.
There is a gaping hole now in the stone skyline of rugged, majestic Crotch Island. From it has come 17 pyramids of granite, some weighing over 65 tons. On each are being cut words from Kennedy’s inaugural speech.
There is a gap too in the lives of men like John H. McGuire, president of the Deer Isle Granite Corporation, a family business; and Robert J. Poitras, the chief cutter who began working granite almost 50 years ago as tool boy to his father.
And David Sturdee, the Stonington boy who once delivered Sunday Telegrams and is now chief draftsman; and Harold Brown, whose hands gave the final finish to each Kennedy stone.
And Alton "Moon" Dunham, who laid the dynamite charges to blast the rock; and Aldo Ciomei, construction boss at the new plant on the mainland, who has supervised the shipment of every Maine stone which will rest at the shrine.
Men like these began work on the "Kennedy job" in the bitter cold and deep snows of last December.
A small boat carried them on those biting mornings across the half-mile stretch of water from Stonington to Crotch Island where they slogged through waist-high drifts to get to the granite cliffs.
With drills and hammers and dynamite they hewed and blasted the granite that was needed, then with jet torches burning liquid oxygen they cut trimmed the giant rocks that had spilled from the cliff face.
For eight long months, the waking hours of the quarry workers have been filled with pain and pride, risk and reward, strain and satisfaction.
"The stones were too big to risk moving to the sheds," explains John McGuire, "so our best crews worked in the quarry itself right through the winter."
They continued through the spring, when wild flowers bloomed out from the still snow filled crevices in the granite. And through the blazing summer, stripped to the waist, with throats parched and gritty from the heat and dust.
Now the proudest job in their lives is done. And its finishing leaves a hole behind.
The contract for the Kennedy gravesite was awarded Deer Isle Granite Corporation last November.
The Army Corps of Engineers, after close examination of granite quarries throughout the United States, had invited a handful to bid. Deer Isle Granite Corporation won the bid, and it’s said that Jackie Kennedy came down to Crotch Island to see how the sun played over the granite before giving her final approval.
The Stonington company says it’s done other jobs which may be bigger, but never finer. For example, the granite in Rockefeller Plaza comes from Stonington, as do the huge bases for New York’s Triborough Bridge, as well as stone for the new Smithsonian Museum of Science and Technology in Washington and the Federal Court House in New York City.
"We are booked solidly for the next two years," says company president McGuire. "Granite is coming back as an architectural facing, replacing in popularity all that glass which has been the rage."
Deer Isle Granite has supplied stone for the Kemper Life Insurance building in Los Angeles, the Cleveland Museum of Art, even the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners office building in Washington.
"But all of us felt the Kennedy job was a thing apart," says McGuire, whose own office building is a ramshackle yellow frame affair overlooking Stonington Harbor.
It is a barren kind of office: bare, wooden floors; pot bellied stoves and old radiators for heat; great, creaking sawhorses on which the enormous plans for the Kennedy gravesite are spread.
David Sturdee and "Swede" Olsen are the principal draftsmen. They drew the shapes for every one of the 1,500 stones which will dovetail into each other when they are in place at Arlington.
Each stone is numbered, and from the drawings Bob Poitras and "Moon" Dunham over at the quarry site chose the granite they had to blast. They pierced it and marked it out on the raw, beauteous hillside, then watched as crews drove in iron stakes, worked dynamite charges into the holes, and blasted.
Towering cranes etched the blue sky above. After blasting, they’d swing down to pick up stones which might weigh 100 tons untrimmed.
A tiny, old fashioned steam engine, wheezing from the wharf, through the meadows and wild woods, scattering deer and foxes, hauled up the jet torches and liquid oxygen cylinders, the asbestos suits and eye visors which the cutters wear.
Among the vast rock cliffs overlooking the isles of Penobscot, the cutters look like weird visitors from outer space. Over their protective headgear are worn earphones to help guard eardrums from perforation by the scream of the jet torches.
On the coldest, sub-zero days of winter there was always the risk one of the massive stones would crack from the intense heat of the torches. But the danger, ever present, never materialized.
Roughly shaped and trimmed down, each stone, perhaps weighing 40 tons, was loaded behind the little old locomotive and eased down Maine’s shortest railway line to the old sheds on Crotch Island.
Scores of other workers there trimmed the pieces further with 12 foot power saws running under torrents of water. It can take a set of four sharp toothed saws up to 13 hours continuous work to cut through a large piece of granite.
Other skilled craftsmen "bathe" the stones with abrasives of tiny beebee shot whirling in a foaming spray.
Gradually, the stone reaches its precise curve, its precise degree of half polish. Then it is crated and boxed.
Another crane picks it up and ladles it over to a high-sided scow which is hauled by tug to the plant at Settlement where trucks load it and set out, at night, on the long journey to Arlington.
In Arlington, new crews of young artisans take over. These are the young men who carve the inscriptions. Head of the small Newport, R.I., company chosen for this task is 26-year-old John Benson, credited with being one of the six finest calligraphers in America. In charge of cutting the lettering is 25-year-old John Hegnauer.
The letters are first painted on the stone, in the same method used by the Romans, then with carbide tipped steel chisels these young men will carve 28 lines -- some 300 words -- into the 17 inscription stones.
The inscription stones comprise a third of the deadweight granite shipped from Maine. The remainder will be used to make up the walkways and the edging stones of the gravesite.
In years to come, over this island granite from Maine, millions of American feet will tread, walking in homage.
A little girl’s shiny black pumps, side by side with her brother’s scuffed sneakers; the flat, sightseeing saddle shoes of a farm mother from Nebraska alongside the handcrafted footwear of the world’s royal and political heads of state.
And the clomp of polished G.I. boots will ring out, while from the etched inscription stones will echo the sound of "taps" being played, as the whispered voices of a nation’s people read the words carved deeply into the stones hewn from the salt-sprayed granite made into a shrine by the men of Maine.