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Turning Angel is back on pedestal; repair work to be done over 2 weekends

NATCHEZ — Volunteers worked Monday morning in the Natchez City Cemetery to place the Turning Angel statue back atop its pedestal so a restoration expert can repair damage to the statue that occurred when the statue was toppled from its pedestal in an act of vandalism on June 23.

Within three days of the damage, police arrested Austin Petty, 20, of Crosby and charged him with felony malicious mischief for allegedly jumping on to the pedestal and rocking the angel until it fell off, damaging the right wing on the statue.

Since the incident occurred, the statue has lain under a Visqueen tarp in the cemetery as Natchez City Cemetery Board members have worked to hire a specialist to do the restoration work on the statue that was placed in the cemetery to look over five young female victims of a 1908 drug company fire in Natchez.

On Aug. 13, board members hired Emily Ford of Oak and Laurel Cemetery Preservation in New Orleans to make the repairs with an estimate for the work of between $2,000 and $3,000, depending on the process used for the repair work.

Funding for the project was raised via online crowdsourcing on GoFundMe.com, which raised $17,734. Leftover funds will be used for security for the cemetery, board members said.

Natchez City Cemetery Board President Elise Rushing said Ford will be at the cemetery this weekend working to repair the damage to the statue and volunteers, including Dave Pace of Brookhaven Monument Company and his employees and volunteer Adolph Wagner of Church Hill, spent Monday morning using a lift to place the Turning Angel back onto its pedestal.

“This is my way of giving back because I can’t give tithes in church until the COVID-19 is over and we can have church again,” Wagner said of his volunteer efforts.

After a couple of hours of prep work, including scraping old plaster off the base of the statue and the top of the pedestal, placing a medal dowel in the center of the top of the pedestal and drilling a hole in the base of the statue, workers secured the statue with straps attached to a lift.

The lift operator, Earl Flemming of the monument company, slowly lifted the statue into the air as the volunteers surrounded it and moved it into place atop the pedestal.

Now, the angel is back in its familiar perch as always, with the exception of the broken wing, which Rushing said should be completed after the Labor Day weekend.

The restoration work also will include a good cleaning for the marble statue that Pace estimates weighs approximately 2,000 pounds.

Ford will begin work on Saturday, Rushing said.

“She works Monday through Friday for the City of New Orleans as superintendent of cemeteries,” Rushing said, adding that the Historic Natchez Foundation will provide Ford lodging while she works Saturday through Monday and again on Labor Day weekend to complete the work.

Rushing said she and other board members appreciate the work of the volunteers, especially Pace and Brookhaven Monument company, which also operates monument companies in Magee, McComb, Natchez and Vicksburg.

“He (Pace) is our angel,” Rushing said. “He has always been a supporter of the cemetery. He will drop whatever he is doing to  do whatever he can to help. We are grateful.”