Student digs up history in Proctor
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | May 15,2010
Albert J. Marro / Rutland Herald
Robert Congdon Jr. stands near the opening of a new exhibit at the Vermont Marble Museum, honoring the effort that went into the building of The Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery.
PROCTOR — Before starting his internship in the Vermont Marble Museum in late August, Robert Congdon had never set foot there.
The 22-year-old from Clarendon, who just graduated from College of St. Joseph with a history degree, is largely responsible for a permanent exhibit at the museum. Opening Monday, the exhibit looks at the Vermont Marble Co. role in creating the Tomb of the Unknowns.
"We originally thought he was going to do a project about use of Vermont marble in Washington," museum manager Cathy Miglorie said. "We thought maybe we'd get enough to cover a wall. We got a whole room."
The room includes blueprints of the memorial and photos of its production and from the interment of unknown soldiers from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
The Tomb of the Unknowns — known informally as the tomb of the unknown soldier — was created in 1921 following commemorations for unidentified World War I dead in England and France. It was originally topped with a flat marble stone quarried in Danby, according to Congdon.
A large marble sarcophagus was added during the 1930s. It was carved out of a single piece of marble.
The 56-ton block, shipped by rail to Proctor from a Vermont Marble quarry in Colorado, was at the time the largest piece of marble ever quarried in the United States. It took workers more than a year to get it out.
Workers in Proctor made basic carvings before it was shipped to Washington, D.C., where the details were added onsite.
"We had a blueprint and the negatives of some photos," Miglorie said. "We knew there had to be more somewhere. He was charged with digging through the layers."
Congdon said he spent weeks in the museum's main archive room, which now holds the exhibit. One of his first discoveries was a set of index cards holding the date and job number of the tomb. This led him to a page in one of the company's ledgers.
"Within these books, on other pages, are the Arlington Amphitheater, the Red Cross building, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial," Miglorie said, gesturing to the ledger on display, open to the entries for the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Congdon's research also took him to Syracuse University, where the archives of the memorial's architect are kept.
Congdon said there he found abandoned plans to create a second tomb for an unknown soldier from World War II. While he could not find out why the second tomb was never built, Congdon said it might have had something to do with the outbreak of the Korean War.
Congdon, who is now looking for a position as a high school history teacher, said it felt good to make history come to life.
"To be able to now stand back and say I was able to find out all this information — this is a large piece of our history as a nation and we were able to make a connection to home," he said. "This isn't just something you learn about in the textbooks. This comes from a few miles from where I live."