The Story of Marble, Part 1: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Updated: May 23
Part 1: How the 56-ton block was quarried from the depths of a Colorado mountain
It is February 1931. From the bed of the quarry in Yule, Colo., a 56-ton block of pure white marble is about to be raised from the quarry's depth. It was not a typical block of marble: this block was specially selected to be fabricated into the great sarcophagus of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
As the demand for large marble blocks continued to grow, so did the progress of marble quarrying operations in America. The quarrying and extraction of the typical 8 to 10-ton blocks became an art as well as a science. Quarrymen were known for their poise and calm when raising the huge marble pieces from the quarry floor and placing them carefully on a railcar or the quarry edge.
But one day not so long ago, this attitude was lacking among a little group of men working on the cliff face of a Colorado mountain nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. There was a tenseness about them not entirely caused by the snapping cold of mid-winter. To the experienced eye, they were about to perform an unusual task. The derrick was massive, with special reinforced bracing, and noticeably heavy rigging. It had been shipped all the way from Vermont expressly for this occasion. The stout boom, also reinforced, leaned out over a quarry opening and, from its head, dropped the thick cable into the depths below.
A signal was given, and motors began to hum. The cable slowly became taut. The great boom moved ponderously, and expert eyes traveled quickly over every part of the equipment to see that it met the strain without signs of weakening. Control levers were eased forward the merest fraction of an inch; the operator could take no chances with a fatal jerk.
One hundred and twenty-five feet below on the quarry floor, a great white mass groaned, slid an inch or two, then, at a pace scarcely visible, was lifted towards the square of light above. To those watchers on the surface, what seemed a small rectangle of white on the quarry floor slowly grew and grew as it neared the top until it threatened to more than fill the mouth of the quarry. At last, it reached the opening, and out into the white light of winter swung the gleaming 56-ton block of Yule, Colorado marble, a nation's tribute in the rough to that Unknown Soldier who sleeps near the entrance of the Arlington Memorial Amphitheatre.
Part 2: The huge block makes its way down the mountainside