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‘Unforgettable': A look back at the the angel Moroni statue’s removal from the Salt Lake Temple

SALT LAKE CITY — As time neared for the angel Moroni and capstone to be lifted from atop the Salt Lake Temple, David Marquez kept returning to the one thought that, more than any other, kept him cool and collected.

Marquez focused himself on the original builders of the Salt Lake Temple — specifically, their fortitude in the face of enormous construction challenges.

“I kept in mind the struggles that those original workers went through with the limited technology they had. I kept replaying that through my mind as we were planning out the task,” said Marquez, a Jacobsen superintendent on the project.

“My nerves were high, my stress was high, so to calm myself back down I would think back to those pioneer builders and say to myself, ‘If they were able and capable of putting this angel Moroni up with limited technology, and since we’ve done everything we can with so many additional resources at our disposal, it’s going to be ok.’ So in a way, their hard work, their perseverance and ingenuity, guided me through that stress and calmed me down.”

Jacobsen and its trade partners meticulously planned the removal for several weeks, starting shortly following the large March 18 earthquake in the Salt Lake Valley that knocked the trumpet out of the angel Moroni statue’s hands. A Jacobsen worker soon retrieved the trumpet from the temple structure and plans were made to move up the statue removal to an earlier stage of the project schedule than originally anticipated.

“When the earthquake hit we knew this moment was coming sooner rather than later,” said Brad Bohne, also a project superintendent.

Jacobsen experts collaborated with masonry, restoration, and historical statue specialists — reviewing original drawings and working to validate important operational details including features of the structural support system, an evaluation of how the statue and capstone are attached, and a study of various pressure points. A scope was even run through the statue’s mouthpiece to inspect and map the interior of the statue.

When the day of the hoist (May 18) arrived, the gravity of the historic moment wasn’t lost on anyone onsite, said project superintendent Dusty Roe. Everyone understood the high stakes of lifting such precious objects from atop the holy and world-renowned temple structure belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Roe said, especially because neither object had been removed since their installation on April 6, 1892.

“On an undertaking like the one we just completed, the moments of joy that you experience can be the highest of the highest. But the potential for the lowest of low feelings is ever-present. The challenge of something like this, with everyone watching for what happens next and in dealing with materials as important and sacred as they are for so many people, is really rewarding,” Roe said.

The capstone and angel Moroni statue, which together weigh several thousand pounds, were originally to be hoisted from the temple separately. But despite two different efforts to take them apart from one another at the top of the temple, it couldn’t be done.

“They were well-connected to each other, so the original builders did a really good job,” Roe said.

Fortunately Jacobsen and its trade partners were already prepared with a backup plan to remove the statue and capstone without separating them — and had even trained with simulations of this very scenario.

“Everyone involved in this task had been included in the planning for different scenarios, and so every person was ready,” Bohne said. “When the time came, we knew that despite the obstacles we encountered during the removal, we had already un-done the stabilizing counterweights and so we were already committed to finishing the job.”

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Trade partners who joined Jacobsen in planning and carrying out the historic task were as follows:

  • Apache Industrial Services
  • Child Enterprises – Masonry Restoration Specialists
  • Eagle Environmental, Inc.
  • FFKR Architects
  • Historical Arts and Casting
  • R&R Environmental, Inc.
  • Wagstaff Crane Service

Everyone involved rose to the occasion, showing the value of extensive pre-planning and collaboration, said Josh Fenn, Jacobsen project manager overseeing the renovation.

“I could hardly sleep the night before and even had a dream about the hoist that night,” Fenn said. “But it went great, and considering the obstacles it went as well as it possibly could. It’s here safely, the teams did a great job and I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Roe agreed.

“The amount of concern and effort everyone put into it, to take a task as delicate as that and make it seem as smooth and fluid as it was, knowing how many cogs were in the wheel — that was impressive to see,” Roe said.

One other hurdle facing construction teams on the day of the hoist was high winds. The blustery conditions called for extra precautions, but ultimately were manageable enough to keep conditions atop the temple safe. Remarkably, the wind died down significantly in the few moments prior to and during the lift.

“It was a brief peaceful moment up there — the timing was perfect,” Bohne said.

Upon being safely set on the ground, the bolts holding the statue and capstone were carefully removed, and both objects were crated to be moved off site for restoration and refurbishment.

The temporary removal of the angel Moroni statue and capstone for refurbishment is just one of many careful efforts being undertaken by Jacobsen and its subcontractors as part of a comprehensive renovation of the temple structure and surrounding grounds that began in January 2020 and is expected to last four years.

Cherished by millions as a holy place of worship and a symbol of their worldwide faith, the Salt Lake Temple is a truly priceless structure — and Jacobsen is handling its meticulous renovation accordingly, said Jacobsen CEO Doug Welling.

“Working in more primitive conditions, the Utah pioneers who built the Temple during the 1800s made enormous, lifelong sacrifices during its original 40-year construction process — all because they knew they were building ‘an ensign on a hill’ intended to stand throughout time,” Welling said.

“Jacobsen’s job is to carry on that legacy by ensuring the temple can withstand earthquakes, restoring many of its historical features, and refreshing the surrounding grounds. We couldn’t be prouder or more grateful to spearhead this historic project and we are confident that our work will be something that all of Salt Lake City, and all those of the worldwide faith headquartered there, can be proud of for generations to come.”

Roe said that being part of this restoration project — one so rife with a sense of the sacred and historic import — is the opportunity of a lifetime. That feeling is shared by the hundreds of workers who make the project a labor of love and give it their very best every day, he said.

“It’s one of those buildings that people all over the world recognize, and value,” Roe said. “To be involved in making it last for the next century-plus, that’s unforgettable. It’s a truly special honor.”

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