September 29, 2011, 9:55 PM
SIOUX FALLS, SD -
One of South Dakota's founding fathers is resting much more comfortably now following an extreme mausoleum makeover.
Workers have breathed new life into the R.F. Pettigrew family plot located in Sioux Falls. The restoration team saved the Pettigrew tomb from certain doom.
Nestled on a rolling hill in the heart of Woodlawn Cemetery is the final resting place of Richard Pettigrew. The remains of South Dakota's first U.S. senator, along with other Pettigrew family members, are kept inside this stately mausoleum fashioned after an ancient Greek temple; a century-old relic of Victorian-era excess.
"At least in this part of the country, it was very ostentatious. But that's Pettigrew. He was aggressive and he was a promoter. I'm not surprised he would have done something really out of the ordinary," Woodlawn Cemetery Board President Jack Marshman said.
The outside of the mausoleum is built from sturdy granite, brought in by railroad in 1905, 11 years before Pettigrew died. But the inside is made out of marble, easy to carve, but no match for the years of punishing weather extremes of South Dakota.
"And we were afraid that some of it might collapse, the interior, so something had to be done," Marshman said.
"The ceiling was so bad, we had two-by-fours holding it up, nobody could go in," Woodlawn Cemetery Manager Kris Howard said.
A mausoleum propped up by wooden slabs wouldn't do for the man who purchased the original 70 acres in southeast Sioux Falls that would become Woodlawn Cemetery.
"Because Pettigrew was the founder of Woodlawn, it's very important to the cemetery to see it stay nice," Howard said.
This is how bad it got for Pettigrew through the decades. The weight from the sagging ceiling of the mausoleum was pushing down so hard, that it was causing the front of his crypt to bow out. Not making for a very restful eternal sleep.
"We ended up taking the ceiling out about two-foot squares at a time. We had to drill through the ceiling and take it out in small pieces," Doug Frederick of Rausch Bros. Monument Company said.
Damage to the interior wasn't so severe to require the removal of the remains inside. Instead, Frederick and others calmly went about their work alongside the well-preserved wooden coffins, unfazed by their somewhat ghoulish surroundings.
"I went in with a very open mind, I was just interested in getting the job done," Frederick said.
With the repair work now finished, the Pettigrews should be good to go for another century.
"I don't think there will be anybody bothering them now, they don't have to worry about the thing collapsing on them," Frederick said.
Pettigrew's historic legacy adds a mystique to the cemetery he founded. Yet questions persist about whether this original South Dakota mover and shaker can ever truly rest in peace.
"Is the cemetery haunted? That's a matter of opinion," Howard said.
Woodlawn Cemetery lined up grant money and private donations to pay for the restoration which cost $47,500.Richard Pettigrew paid $10,000 for the mausoleum, back in 1905.
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