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By Lt. Donald R. Neil, Q. M. C.
The Quartermaster Review
January-February 1932 

Details of the construction of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 

AFTER a period of over two years, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is now in its final stage of completion, and is rapidly approaching the form in which it will endure through the ages. Grand in its simplicity; surmounting a massive flight of steps; backed by the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater and overlooking the City of Washington in the distance, the new Tomb is a fitting memorial to the Nation’s Unknown Soldier. 

The work was under the control of the Construction Division of the Office of The Quartermaster General, Brig. Gen. Louis H. Bash in charge. Actual supervision was performed by the Office of the Constructing Quartermaster, Washington, D. C., with Captain John A. Gilman, Q. M. C., in charge, assisted by 2nd Lt. Donald R. Neil, Q. M. C. Hegman-Harris Company, Inc., of New York City, were the Contractors, Lorimer Rich of New York, the Architect, William Hudson Jones, the Sculptor.  

The contract for the work was let in December, 1929. Immediately, steps were taken to obtain the three large pieces of marble necessary, namely, the base, the die block, and the cap.  This task was given to the Vermont Marble Company, who commenced quarrying operations at their quarries at Marble, Colorado, at an elevation of 10,000 feet. In all, twelve months were expended in quarrying the marble.  

Three blocks for the base, each weighing eighteen tons, were quarried before one was obtained which the Vermont Marble Company thought acceptable. However, on arrival at Arlington, this last one was rejected, due to imperfections.  This necessitated going back to the quarries for another block, and three additional pieces were quarried prior to obtaining the one which now forms the base of the Tomb.  

The main die block, weighing 55 tons in the rough, was the third one taken out before a perfect piece was obtained. This block is the largest piece of marble that has ever been shipped by rail.

The cap piece weighing 14 tons was quarried without trouble, as the first piece was suitable for the work.  

From Marble, Colorado, the marble was shipped to Rutland, Vermont, where the Vermont Marble Company cut and dressed the stone to the specified size and shape. It required six months to complete this work. The fine carving was left undone, to be completed after the marble had been set over the Tomb. Ten tons of marble were taken off the die block during the cutting and dressing so that the finished stone now weighs 45 tons.  

From Rutland, Vermont, the three blocks of marble were shipped to Arlington National Cemetery, arriving at their destination in September of 1931.  

The work of setting the marble in place was begun immediately.  Mr. Deline, Subcontractor for Hegeman-Harris Company, Inc., a man of nationwide renown as an expert setter of large monumental work, was in direct charge of the setting. An “A” frame, 30 feet high made of 12″ x 12″ timber, with a winch and a pulley block of 4 sheaves, was constructed on the ground drawn up into a vertical position, and then rolled into its final position alongside and projecting over the Tomb.  At the same time, the work of stripping the old marble and concrete from the existing Tomb was carried on.  Setting the base was a comparatively simple job, as it was rolled right over its position.  Four Lewis holes had been provided at the shop and by utilizing these, the stone was attached to the hoisting cable by four turnbuckles, by means of which it was perfectly leveled, prior to lowering it into its final position.  

It was at this time, however, that the imperfections were noted. The base was rejected and a new one ordered to replace the former.  Work was stopped for a period of three months while the new base was being quarried, cut and dressed.  In December, 1931, the new base arrived, the rejected one removed, and the new one set in place.  Next came the die block, weighing 45 tons.  This was rolled into a position directly behind the Tomb. It was then jacked and blocked up about 18″ above the top of the base, and rolled out over its final position. Lewis holes had been provided, the turnbuckles were attached to the stone and hoisting cable, and by means of the turnbuckles, the stone was perfectly leveled in the same manner as the base block.  With everything in order the block was lowered, the “A” frame supporting the load with ease.  

Although not as massive as the die block, the setting of the cap was more interesting from an engineering viewpoint, as no Lewis holes could be cut in the top of the stone, it being the last one to be set.  This piece was rolled into a position behind the Tomb and jacked and blocked up about 18 feet above the top of the die block, approximately 8 feet off the ground. It was then rolled out over the Tomb. 

In order to pick the cap up so as to take out the rollers, and lower it into position, a device known as a differential hitch was used. Two blocks of soft wood, each 12″ x 12″ x 2″, at each corner were held in place by a steel cable wrapped six times around the perimeter of the cap.  Two shackles were fastened to the three upper strands on one side and two shackles to the three lower strands on the other side. The turnbuckles were in turn fastened to the shackles. Thus when the “A” frame took the weight, this cable was pulling against itself, creating a pressure on the blocks of wood on the corners.  The friction between the wood and marble (an area of 8 square feet) held the cap securely and allowed it to be lowered into position without mishap. Thus the work of setting was completed on the last day of the year 1931.  

All that remains to be done is the carving of the figures and wreaths on the main die block.  This work is progressing now, and it is contemplated the Tomb will be completed about April 1, 1932.