Iconic hand returned to Port Gibson steeple
Published 12:03 am Thursday, August 17, 2017
By Brandon O’Connor
The Vicksburg Post
PORT GIBSON — The Hand Pointing to Heaven is once again in its rightful place atop the steeple of First Presbyterian Church in Port Gibson.
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The 10-feet 4-inch, 250 pound golden fist with its index finger pointing skyward was returned to the top of the steeple at First Presbyterian Wednesday morning following a two-month restoration process.
The golden hand was taken down from the steeple on June 26 and sent to Virginia where it was restored and then recovered in gold plate.
“We sent it to American Stripping Company in Manassas Park, Virginia,” Rev. Michael Herrin said. “They stripped off the previous coatings, repaired the metal, it had rust mainly on the cuff around the bottom. They then prepared the surface for gilding. The gilder’s studio from Maryland put the gold plate on it. It is real gold plate, just real thin.”
The hand was then shipped back to Port Gibson where it was originally scheduled to be reinstalled Aug. 9. Inclement weather caused a slight delay in the process, but Wednesday it was raised back to the top of the steeple where it sits 147 feet above the ground.
“It is a symbol of Port Gibson,” Herrin said. “It is a sample of what we are all supposed to be about. It reminds us that this life isn’t about us. It is about God. It does what steeples are supposed to do. They are supposed to point us to God.”
There was some question Wednesday of whether they would raise the hand to the top of the steeple or not after a few cracks were found in the back when it was unwrapped. They decided to go ahead after sealing the cracks to keep water out.
“I carried it up there with a mattress and it worked fine,” Jimmy Cassell, the chairman of the Deacon’s Board, said. “They built some cradle they wanted me to bring it back in. That cradle is too hard evidentially, and when we hit bumps it bent it a little bit. We calked it and hopefully it is going to be alright.”
After the repairs were made and members of the congregation had the chance to have their picture taken with it, the hand was raised to the top of the steeple using a crane. There it had to be bolted back onto the steeple and the lightning rod had to be attached.
A hand has been atop the steeple of First Presbyterian since 1860, when the current building was finished. The original hand was made of wood and this hand, which is made of metal, was purchased and placed atop the steeple in 1903.
“The original minister, Dr. Zebulon Butler, during his sermons would make the hand gesture,” Cassell said. “They took that hand gesture and made it.”
It has been a fixture of Port Gibson ever since. The hand was last taken down from the steeple in 1989 to be refurbished.
“It is always scary when it comes down because there are so many things that could happen,” Azalea Knight, who has been a member of the church since 1972, said. “It is such a landmark for the state of Mississippi and Port Gibson. It is beautiful and I am so excited to see it back up. It is such a void while it was gone.”
Norma Bearden made the drive from Natchez to see the golden hand returned to the steeple. The hand and the church hold a special place in her heart and she wanted to be there for its return.
“I was married in this church in 1979. It really was a good feeling that we are trying to keep the town up. It brought back a lot of good feelings about my wedding,” Bearden said. “I grew up in the area and I saw the hand nearly every day of my life. I thought it was monumental that we have been able to keep it restored and in such good condition. It shows the pride of everybody in the Presbyterian Church.”
The two month long project cost the church $43,000, Herrin said.
“I am so thankful for all the people that contributed to this and did it. It is so great to have deacons who will take a project and just run with it,” he said. “It looks wonderful. Beautiful, golden, shiny. I think it does its job. It points people to Christ and that is all we can ask.”