GENEVA — It’s said that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
But the same cannot be said for an iconic piece that once again stands over a historic city cemetery.
Eight years after a city public works truck inadvertently knocked it down, the cast-iron arch at the entrance to the Washington Street Cemetery has returned.
Friday morning, DPW workers, working with the Wilcox Crane Co., of Rochester, placed the arch back at its original spot at the entrance to the cemetery, whose beginnings date back to 1832. The arch itself dates back to the 1830s or 1840s.
On hand to watch the work was Ford Weiskittel, a Geneva Historical Society member and chairman of the city’s Historic Districts Commission.
He led a fundraising effort through the historical society to raise the money needed to restore and return the arch to the cemetery, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The arch, said retired Dr. Verne Marshall, who helps maintain the city cemetery, is key to the burial ground’s rich history.
“It got that (historic) recognition with that thing there,” said Marshall, who came out to see the arch return at the request of Weiskittel, who was all smiles Friday morning, taking photos and video of the work.
The plan to repair and return the arch to the cemetery was a long and sometimes-difficult one, said Weiskittel. The historical society eventually settled on a plan to have local master welder Tony Aiesi do the work.
Weiskittel called him “a genius.”
The plan ultimately adopted called for a skeleton of nearly 7,000 pounds of steel, with the original cast-iron pieces bolted into it, put together like a “jigsaw puzzle,” as DPW Director Mark Perry described it.
“He (Aiesi) invented the idea,” said Weiskittel. “It wouldn’t have happened without him.”
Weiskittel noted that Aiesi wouldn’t take any money until he did some tests to see if his plan would work.
DPW workers laid the 17-foot foundation where the arch, which arrived by flatbed, was gently placed with help of a towering crane. It was then secured to the concrete.
Not all the pieces could be saved, however. Five floral capitals, as Weiskittel called them, on the arch had to be cast, with the Geneva High School’s Interact Club raising the money for that work.
The cost for returning the arch is about $47,000, said Weiskittel, including donations , as well as $8,000 in insurance money from the city. The city also spent $4,000 for the crane.
A floral design on the arch’s top — one of the few things left in tact — will be installed soon, said Charlie Blowers of the city DPW, who is heading the project, which he said the city wants completed before Memorial Day.
Weiskittel said the arch will get a fresh coat of dark green paint, which should hide the bolts used to adhere the arch pieces to its new steel interior.
He also gave praise to John Brennan, who works in the city’s code enforcement office and is a big booster of historic preservation.
“It wouldn’t have happened without him,” he said. “He has guided the project from the beginning. I just raised the money.”
Marshall said he’s been eager to see the arch return.
“I kept bugging them (the historical society): ‘When is something going to be done?’”
DPW Director Perry is among the many pleased to see the project come to fruition.
“I would like to say that it was a long time in coming,” he said. “Everyone that worked on the project should be commended. Beginning with all the people who would not let the arch go away and pushed to get it repaired or replaced, to the people and Geneva Historical Society who got behind the project and donated time and money for the repairs, to the Public Works Department for getting the foundation in and working with Wilcox Crane to get the arch moved and set. All of these parties did a fantastic job.”
Perry also praised “Tony and his assistant for the work they put into getting the arch back together.”
The DPW director said it “seemed like we picked up and moved 200 pieces. ...These two people put the arch back together as if it were a jigsaw puzzle, and they did so without having the top of the box to look at while doing so. Truly amazing work.”
Weiskittel noted that some cast-iron bollards will be placed in front of the arch to prevent it from being hit.