PROVIDENCE — For the first time since 1975 and only the second time in history, the Independent Man statue will come down from atop the Rhode Island State House, state officials announced Friday.
Earlier this week, a drone scanning the State House dome as part of a façade cleaning project spotted a gap in the base beneath the 11-foot-tall, 500-pound statue.
With Hurricane Lee approaching the area, state officials are scrambling to secure the statue before the strong winds arrive. A massive crane stood outside the State House on Friday, and work crews were planning to secure the statue and its base.
During a news conference across the street from the State House, Governor Daniel J. McKee said he is grateful that the drone video revealed the separation in the base beneath the statue.
“This allowed us to act quickly to safeguard this important piece of Rhode Island history and address any damage to the statue’s marble base before it could become a safety issue,” he said. “The Independent Man is an iconic symbol of our state and a source of pride for all Rhode Islanders, reminding us of the spirit of independence that our state was founded on.”
After the initial work to secure the statue is complete, and the full plan for the restoration and preservation is finalized, the Independent Man will be temporarily removed from atop the State House dome, administration officials said. The administration will be developing options to display the statute for the general public to enjoy before it is reunited to its base atop the State House.
“The Independent Man has weathered decades of storms and blizzards and hurricanes, and now he will be restored to pristine condition to be enjoyed for generations to come and for people across the nation and the world to come and see,” McKee said.
McKee said the drone detected the separation in the marble base beneath the statue as crews were preparing to clean the dome and the area surrounding the Independent Man.
He noted that he asked the General Assembly to fund the cleaning of the entire Georgian marble surface of the 125-year-old State House. The $2.24 million cleaning project is being funded by the Rhode Island Capital funded Asset Protection Program.
The bronze statue, originally named “Hope,” was designed by George Brewster, cast by the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence, and installed in 1899. It has come down from the dome just once, in 1975, for repairs and a new coat of gold leaf.
The last time the Independent Man came down was ahead of the nation’s bicentennial.— Lindsay Russell (@lind_russell) September 15, 2023
My beloved grandfather, a union ironworker with the Local 37, was there to place him back atop the State House.
He would’ve loved this news. pic.twitter.com/y1wMe29uEX
Jonathan Womer, director of the Department of Administration, said a drone flew over the State House and grounds on Tuesday to assess how the cleaning project was progressing.
“It became very apparent that there was some serious damage to the cupola — the dome that the Independent Man is sitting on,” he said. “A very large separation between two of the segments. We realized this was very, very troubling, especially with the possibility of inclement weather coming our way.”
Womer said the last time the Independent Man came down, the restoration process lasted about a year. “I’d expect something very similar this time around,” he said.
Marco Schiappa, director of the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, said the crane was lifting workers in a basket on Friday so they can strap the statue around the cupola and secure it. The crews will also strap down “loose stones that are up there right now that are dislodged to prevent them from moving any further,” he said. “It’s a temporary action just to ensure things are safe.”
Schiappa said officials believe that the repairs needed on the cupola will require the statue to come down from the building.
Womer said he did not know how much work will cost yet. “We do have a number of capital accounts with the State House we can look at,” he said. “In addition, we are doing an insurance assessment because this really does seem like it was an event that happened, rather than slow progress.”
Drone footage from January, when the cleaning project began, showed no damage at that time, Womer said. “There have been a lot of weather events this summer,” he said. “Probably one of them contributed to this. Exactly which we are going to have to assess.”
McKee said it’s not clear yet when the statue will come down or where it would be kept then.
“We will have a plan,” he said. “We will make sure the people of the state of Rhode Island are able to see front and center what it looks like and share in their pride. We will take advantage of an opportunity like this to kind of share Rhode Island’s history with the people.”