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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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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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