'Acorn' removed in acrobatic show at State House Annapolis bids adieu to 208-year-old fixture to be replaced in fall

September 02, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

A nut was removed from the State House yesterday -- not by election, not in handcuffs, but dangling from a helicopter.

In a delicate job that took only 15 minutes, a pilot airlifted the rotting, 800-pound, nut-shaped decoration from the top of the Capitol dome in Annapolis to a nearby field. The 208-year-old "acorn," whose interior is the consistency of mulch, will be replaced by a new replica this fall.

"Here it comes," shouted onlooker Nancy Seamon, squinting at a box holding the acorn as it swayed just above the trees at the end of a long helicopter cable.

More than a dozen people at the base of the State House -- video cameras pointed upward -- fell silent as the crate swayed and rocked overhead.

L Folks couldn't help but wonder: What if that tether snapped?

"We spent 10 hours [Saturday] securing everything, expecting the worst to happen," said Jim Becker, a superintendent with Fiorini Brothers, the Baltimore building contractor renovating the State House dome.

"Of course," he added with a smile, "the worst didn't happen."

It was a textbook job, completed in half the time the state's Department of General Services had predicted.

At 8 a.m., pilot Scott Talada took off from a field at St. John's College and hovered over the State House until Becker and another worker hooked the box to a trapeze-like bar. Talada made three additional 90-second trips for the pedestal and miscellaneous pieces.

"This was easy," said Talada, a Vietnam War pilot who works for Carson Helicopters in Perkasie, Pa. Lifting boxes is nothing compared to his other jobs -- such as when he airlifted big letters spelling "Taj Mahal" to the top of the Trump casino in Atlantic City, N.J.

Yesterday's cargo, however, was precious. A landmark atop the oldest state Capitol still in use, the acorn is a fixture on the Annapolis skyline.

Not just for decoration

The 6-foot oval structure, made from cypress and covered in 1780s copper, also served a practical purpose: stabilizing a wrought-iron lightning rod that ran through it against winds.

HTC As early as next month, a stronger, more rot-resistant acorn -- also carved from cypress in an identical design -- will be installed. In the meantime, the lightning rod will be reinforced with steel to keep it from toppling.

The state, which budgeted $85,000 for the job, cut costs by enlisting 32 volunteers to carve the new acorn.

This one should last another 200 years.

"You hear stories of how craftsmanship is dead, and we're proving that's just not true," said Eugene R. Lynch, secretary of general services and a carpenter. "This is really good work."

But some folks are sad to see the old acorn go, even if its time has come.

'Save my acorn'

"I was always so proud of it," said Lynne Tolley. According to tradition, her ancestor Christopher Raborg was a coppersmith who hammered metal around the acorn in the late 1700s. "I've been saying 'Please, please, save my acorn.' "

She and a distant relative, Louis Raborg, watched the acorn operation with more than the passing interest of other spectators. Tolley chatted about the acorn's history, while Raborg helped hoist its crate onto a flatbed truck.

The old acorn eventually may be displayed at the State House. For now, it will reside at the Maryland Historical Trust's conservation lab at the Department of Housing and Community Development in Crownsville.

Orlando Ridout V, an architectural historian for the trust, refused to get sentimental as the State House lost a piece of its history.

"It's in poor shape," he said. "We should have done this 80 years ago."

Pub Date: 9/02/96

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