Mississippi markers spiffed up to shine

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 6, 2002

Mississippi Gold Leaf Inc. co-owner Kay Merritt, left, applies gold leafing to a Mississippi regiment marker as co-owner Wanda Walters wipes away the excess gold.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[06/06/02]Since they were installed in 1909, the 24 stone markers honoring Mississippi regiments that served during the Siege of Vicksburg have been unreadable. But not any more. They’re as good as gold.

Terry Winschel, chief historian at the Vicksburg National Military Park, said he noticed soon after being assigned to the federal preserve 25 years ago that markers were hard to read.

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In fact, words inscribed on the faces of the two dozen granite blocks that stand from near Fort Hill to near Hope Street were carved in such a way that unless a person walked within a few feet, they could not be read.

“You almost had to read them like Braille,” Winschel said.

But an ancient idea, gilding with gold as was done by the Egyptians, is bringing the wording out in a privately funded project.

The park hired Kay Merritt and Wanda Walters, owners of Mississippi Gold Leaf Inc. of Clarksdale, to take on the task.

“We love working in the park,” Walters said as she and Merritt applied thin sheets of gold to one of the markers on Confederate Avenue Tuesday morning.

The company previously worked on the Illinois Memorial, putting gold leaf on the eagle perched high above the door and on the inscription nearby and on the restoration of the Texas Monument on the South Loop.

Walters said they are using 3.25-inch-square sheets of 23.75-karat gold beaten to a thinness of 0.025 inch. To enhance the letters on all 24 markers, Merritt and Walters will use 220,000 sheets.

The women and master gilder John Sansbury of Winter Garden, Fla., who works with Walters and Merritt on special projects, arrived in town last week and cleaned the monuments. They returned Monday to begin applying the gold.

The first step is to apply a varnish to the surfaces to receive the gold and let it dry to a sticky finish overnight. They also erect a wooden frame over the marker to be worked on and drape it with a plastic tarp.

“We get out here at 6:30 in the morning to beat the heat,” Walters said, adding they have to work under the tent to keep stray gusts of wind from carrying off the thin sheets of gold.

After applying gold all morning, the gilders spend the afternoon preparing the monuments they will work on the next morning.

Walters said that since gold is an inert metal, they believe the gold they are applying now will last at least 50 years.

“This has been a dream of mine for a long time,” Winschel said of the gilding.

The $20,000 cost of the project is being covered by donations, including the money raised by school children in Madison County to help with the restoration of the Mississippi Monument and from chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and camps of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“It is wonderful we have been able to do this at such a good cost and at no cost to taxpayers,” Winschel said.