Cross returned to old monument

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

Natchez &8212; Catholic Hill is complete, Natchez City Cemetery Director Don Estes declared Monday.

A large marble cross that once sat atop George T. Payne&8217;s monument at the back of the cemetery had lain beside it for perhaps a century &8212; or at least as long as anyone in Natchez could remember.

When Estes took over as cemetery director seven years ago, his goal was to clean up and repair the monuments. The Payne cross is the last one to be made whole.

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&8220;It&8217;s been my goal for seven years, but I&8217;ve never been able to figure out how,&8221; Estes said.

So Estes, who plans to retire in January, turned the task over to Mike Downey, who has been chosen to take Estes&8217; place.

Downey, a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer, quickly devised a plan with the Natchez Monument Co. to reattach the cross.

Workers with the Monument Company bleached and cleaned the cross and leveled the bottom. Then they drilled a hole into the bottom, while Downey installed a piece of rebar into the top of the monument to hold the cross.

On Monday, Natchez Monument Co. workers lifted the 200- to 300-pound cross high into the air on a crane so that Downey, on a ladder, could maneuver it onto the top of the monument and install it onto the rebar. He cemented it in place with a marble epoxy.

Estes believes the Payne monument, which sits at the back of Catholic Hill, is at the highest elevation in the cemetery, although it may not be the tallest monument.

The cross, made of what Estes suspects is carerra marble, is carved with a drape, which means mourning.

Payne himself may have been a factor &8212; something like an accountant &8212; for Jefferson Davis. His monument records that Payne was born in Ireland and died in 1891, but no date of birth is given.

For Estes, having the cross back up on the monument is a sense of accomplishment.

&8220;I told Mike if I ever put that cross up there, I&8217;d feel like I completed my mission,&8221; Estes said.

Estes plans to shine a spotlight on the monument this weekend, during the Angels on the Bluff evening tours. He also wants cemetery workers to clean the marble monument so that it&8217;s as white as the cross.

But on Monday, he was content to stand back and admire the view.

&8220;It rocks,&8221; Estes said.