Broken column, broken men

Something in the half-awake moments early in the day seems to generate the kind of ideas that do not emerge in the hours of full wakefulness. Perhaps it is a mix of unformed dreams with leftover thoughts.   So it was this morning.

The days lately have been dominated by putting together the source list for the next Capitol book, going back through boxes of records to retrieve the ideas of others that have been synthesized into the narrative of the history of Missouri’s Capitol so they can be given proper credit.  Throughout that process, a broken granite column has been summoning the author to rediscover it. 

In 1915, while workers were turning lines on paper into a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that would become the Capitol, the huge granite columns from an east coast quarry were arriving on flatcars on the railroad tracks below the bluff where the capitol was being built.  A derrick would hoist each column to the top where they could be moved inside the eventual chamber of the House of Representatives and erected.  Little construction could be done on that part of the building until those columns were in place. 

One day, the derrick broke, dropping a column back down onto the flatcar, which truly became a flat car.  The column broke apart. Nobody was hurt. We do not know what happened to all of the pieces—some might have been shoved into the nearby river.  But at least one large piece wound up on top of the bluff where it was rolled to the side out of the way.  A new column was quickly ordered and supplied.

For years and years that column was partly visible, partially buried in the sloping side of the bluff.  The story was told that it was one of the columns from the capitol that burned in 1911.  So one day about thirty-five years ago or so, the eventual author, joined by a friend, UPI Bureau Chief Stevenson Forsythe, and Jefferson City Senator Jim Strong searched it out.  Clearly, it was not a column from the old building.   It remained as polished and as shiny as the day it broke, as polished and as shiny as the columns in the Missouri House.  

Now, as the third version of the manuscript—or maybe the fifth; we have made so many changes it’s hard to say how many versions there have been—is going through the latest honing and sourcing, the broken column is calling.  “Find me,” it said in those hazy half-awake-half-sleep moments.    

As far as we know, it is still there.  But now it is covered by more than three decades of leaf debris, roots, vines, dirt, and other debris.   And memory of the location has dimmed.    

And in that half-light of awareness this morning a new thought came, a purpose for that broken column, a reason to find it.    

Many memorials have been added to the capitol campus since the three of us scrambled part way down that slope that day.  Perhaps it’s time for a new one that honors the seven men who died building the capitol and the hundreds of others whose hands and sweat transformed lines on paper into the three-dimensional symbol of all that is good and not-so-good about state government.

  S. C. Hyde         

 Ira H. Green       

 Samuel Ritchie    

 Tony Templeton          

 H. Robert Deighton    

  Henry T. Smith                      

 August Baker       

 Two of these seven were killed in at the quarry in Carthage where the stone was being prepared for the building.   A broken column engraved with the names of seven broken men who did not live to see the magnificence that the hands of other men completed for them would not be inappropriate as we mark the building’s centennial events.  

If that column is still there, I’m going to find it.   


Let me know what you think......