How 10 Famous Landmarks Get Clean

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Happy first day of Spring! This is the time of year when we cleanse our homes of all the muck and mustiness of winter. But it's not just houses that get a thorough cleaning. Monuments and statues do, too—sometimes just once every few years, sometimes more than once a year. After looking at these photos of courageous workers going to great heights and grimy detail to shine up some much-beloved landmarks, your spring cleaning won't seem like such a chore.

1. Eiffel Tower

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The 124-year-old tower is cleaned every year, a task that requires 4 tons of wipes, 25,000 garbage bags, 10,000 doses of detergent and 105 gallons of metal cleaning solution. Every 7 years, the tower is repainted by hand with lead-free paint in three shades of brown (darkest at the bottom). The repainting requires nearly 60 tons of paint and can last up to 18 months. You can see a short newsreel video of a 1946 spring cleaning at British Pathe.

2. Richard I

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This cleaning of the Richard I statue in London, England, took place in February 1933. In an extensive 2009 restoration, conservators removed dirt and a coating of black wax from the 150-year-old statue, repainted it dark brown, and treated it with clear wax to guard against pollution and weather. 

3. The Great Westminster Clock/Big Ben

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Cleaning the face of London's famous clock is a big job: Each dial—there are four!—is 23 feet square. There are 312 panes on each face. The hour hand is 9 feet long, and the minute hand is 14 feet long. Each number is about 2 feet high. And the clock doesn't stop running while they work—so cleaners rappelling from nylon ropes have to dodge the moving hands (the minute hand moves at about a foot a minute). For this cleaning, which took place in March 1930, a cleaner named Mr. Larkin lowered himself down the face using a rope.

4. Statue of Liberty

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This cleaning of Lady Liberty's torch took place in November 1974, in preparation for the U.S.'s Bicentennial celebrations. (In high winds, the torch can sway up to 6 inches. Scary!) Until at least the 1930s, the monument got an annual wash, but not a scrub—the green patina on the statue actually keeps the copper safe. One cleaning of the interior of the statue with bicarbonate of soda, performed in 1986, leaked through to the exterior and left streaks on the statue's left cheek and right arm.

Here's video of a cleaning from the 1930s:

And check out pictures from an extensive renovation in 1984 at the Library of Congress. (Thanks to Matt for the head's up!)

Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty, is currently closed due to damage from Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully, Lady Liberty's framework—which was designed by Gustav Eiffel—saved the 126-year-old statue itself from any damage, but a major cleanup on the island, estimated to cost $59 million, is underway. It was recently announced that it would reopen this summer for the Fourth of July.

5. Lincoln Memorial

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Twice a year, Honest Abe's marble doppelgänger in Washington, D.C., gets a thorough washing with a power hose.

6. Mount Rushmore

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This monument, completed in 1941, received its first cleaning in the summer of 2005. The 60-foot-tall granite faces of four great American presidents were blasted with highly pressurized 150-degree water, which caused all the dirt, grime, and moss that had accumulated to fall away.

7. The Structures and Statues of Acropolis Hill

Optics.Org

In 2008, scientists began using lasers to clean the surfaces of the 2500 year old monuments on Acropolis Hill in Athens, Greece, of a black film caused by pollution. The decision to use the high-tech lasers—a beam of infrared and a beam of ultraviolet rays, firing simultaneously—came after a test of 40 different methods, including mechanical and chemical processes, to determine what would clean the best while maintaining detail. Because of the rays from the lasers, goggles-wearing restorers could work for only two hours a day. You can see how the technology works in the video below:

8. The Space Needle

KomoNews

In 2008, the Space Needle got its first cleaning since it opened for the 1962 World's Fair. Working only at night, Karcher GmbH & Co.—which also cleaned Mount Rushmore—used water pressurized to 2,610.6 psi and heated to 194 degrees Fahrenheit to rid the 604-foot-tall tower of dirt, grime, and bird droppings. The cleaners lowered themselves by rope from the top of tower. You can see more of the amazing photos from the cleaning at KomoNews.

9. The Empire State Building

Master Cleaners

Window washers working at the 102-story Empire State Building couldn't attach ropes to the roof and lower themselves down because the roof wasn't flat. Instead, they hooked harnesses to eyebolts embedded inside the building. Check out this 1938 video of some daring cleaners hard at work:

10. The Hollywood Walk of Fame

John W. Adkisson / Los Angeles Times / July 21, 2010

In 2010, the LA Times profiled Walk of Fame cleaner John Peterson, who, at that point, had kept the then-2412 stars clean for 14 years. Peterson, an employee of CleanStreet, used Brasso metal polish, Windex, and paper towels to get the job done; 13 other CleanStreet employees powerwash the Walk of Fame at night to avoid tourists. The one-legged man—who lost his lower right leg to a congenital disease—was still at it as recently as 2012.

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March 20, 2013 - 1:00pm
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