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National Landmark Getting Facelift

November 15, 1989

PLYMOUTH, Mass. (AP) _ Plymouth Rock, the boulder marking the spot where the Pilgrims landed 369 years ago, is in danger of splitting in two. But a mason says he’ll preserve it in time for Thanksgiving.

″I don’t look at it as a job, I look at it as a privilege to preserve something that means a lot to people all over the United States,″ said Paul Choquette, 42, of South Dartmouth, who planned to start work on the rock today.

He bid $1 to win the contract to patch up the historic landmark, where Pilgrims are said to have first set foot on American land in 1620.

Ronald Hirschfeld, a geotechnical engineer hired by the state’s Department of Environmental Management to analyze the rock, has concluded that the rock’s crack will worsen if left unattended.

″It would look terribly embarrassing if it split in half,″ said Peter O’Neil, a department spokesman.

The crack first appeared in 1774, when the 6-ton boulder was dropped during an attempt to move it to the town square, breaking it in two.

The smaller piece was used for the town display, but because tourists kept chipping away at the monument, guardians of the rock decided to glue it back to its partner in 1880.

That job has stood up to the tides that occasionally submerge the rock, which is 14 feet wide and 6 feet long and stands in a half-enclosed protective structure in the waters off of this seaside town.

The mortar, however, is deteriorating. State and town officials fear water that seeps into the rock will freeze, causing further fissures or worse.

The main crack is about 2 1/2 feet long. Choquette said repairs could be completed in one day.

He said he’s not using high-tech glues or epoxy, because scientists want to be able to undo his work without damaging the rock if more substantial repairs become necessary.

He has prepared a special mortar mixed to match the color and consistency of the 19th century repairs, but he declined to reveal his mix, beyond saying it contained ″small pebbles.″

Choquette, a mason for 22 years, said he also will fix a series of hairline cracks that have developed within the main fracture and in some other areas of the rock. The smaller cracks were caused by the vibrations of the tourist buses that rumble over the road about 5 feet from the landmark, he said.

Two masons submited bids. Choquette was chosen after the other mason asked for about $100.

″It just makes me feel good,″ Choquette said. ″It’s just knowing what it stands for. It’s a symbol of freedom and how America supposedly started off.″

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