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Archive for Friday, October 11, 2002

Statue finally caps Capitol

October 11, 2002

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— Ad Astra at lastra.

There were many good omens promising success Thursday for the 300-foot climb of the 22-foot, two-ton Kansa Indian statue to the top of the Capitol dome.

It reached its perch on a sunny and windless day, a day not unlike Monday, when the sculpture first went up only to be returned to the ground hours later because of problems with bolts that hold the statue to the dome.

But on Thursday, after workers had realigned the bolts, the bronze was hoisted by a giant crane and attached without a hitch.

Richard Bergen, the 77-year-old Salina artist who has worked on the project 14 years, said the perfect weather and a falcon gliding by were signs this try would be successful and the last.

"That Indian seems to have a lot of control over the weather. He calls for perfect days," Bergen said. "This is just as exciting as the other day."

And Bergen said he had never lost hope for the project, which has had its share of problems.

But, he conceded, "I did wonder if I was going to live long enough. You know, I get older every year."

Bergen won a contest in 1988 to make the statue, but the project became mired in delays and concerns about its cost, which is being funded through private donations and souvenir sales.

Recently, Gov. Bill Graves was under fire for spending more than $600,000 in state funds to reinforce the Capitol dome to hold the statue at a time he was cutting funds to public schools and social services. Eventually, anonymous donors contributed $500,000 to defray most of that cost.

The "Ad Astra" name was taken from the state motto, "Ad Astra Per Aspera," which is a Latin phrase meaning "To the Stars Through Difficulties."

Once up there, Bergen said, the statue will last forever. He said it was highly engineered and filled with a honeycomb of stainless steel. It was chemically oxidized to match the color of oxidation on the copper dome.

On the ground Thursday, about 100 people gathered for the second lift-off, just a fraction of the more than 1,500 people who showed up Monday for the first try.

Myrna Davidson of Russell said she was excited about seeing the statue. "I have been waiting so long for this. It's a big thrill for me," she said.

But some skeptics remained. Lee Harris of Topeka said he was surprised engineers did not have the statue's holes lined up correctly at first. "How hard is it to line up some holes? I think I could've done that," he said.

He conceded, however, that Ad Astra "looked pretty good up there."

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