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A monumental arrival


Backers of the National Katyn Memorial project could be forgiven for thinking the fates were against them.

They had spent more than a decade raising $1.4 million for a statue commemorating the thousands of Polish officers massacred by Soviet troops during World War II, and last weekend was to be an extended celebration of the monument's arrival from Europe.

But storms and labor trouble delayed the statue's voyage and forced the cancellation of the parades, banquets and diplomatic receptions that were to have welcomed the sculpture to Baltimore.

So when the Dutch merchant ship carrying the statue arrived at the end of a Clinton Street pier yesterday, well after its expected Aug. 23 landing date, it was greeted by a small knot of relieved Polish-Americans.

"I feel like applauding," said Edward B. Rybczynski, 70, one of the monument's backers, as a crane waited to lift the statue from the Edisongracht. "It's just wonderful, a culmination of 12 years' work."

Moving the 12-ton, 44-foot bronze sculpture from the ship onto a flatbed truck required a careful choreography of machinery and manpower.

The statue, which depicts soldiers emerging from gilded tongues of flame, was stored on its side in a protective cage of red steel. The work was swaddled in white plastic, revealing only its shape and giving it the appearance of an enormous pincer-jawed beetle wrapped in a spider's web.

As a crane hoisted the cage over the side of the ship, workers pulled at it with a long rope, positioning it for the descent onto dry land. The cage was lowered slowly, coming to a stop about 6 feet above the ground.

A truck with a long, red-painted flatbed backed into place beneath the hovering bundle. Hard-hatted dockworkers shouted and gesticulated, edging the crane downward until it landed more or less squarely on the truck.

A monument to tragedy and hope had finally landed.

"I'm relieved, to say the least. Happy, of course," said Alfred B. Wisniewski, 77, chairman of the National Katyn Memorial project, which honors the 15,400 Polish officers executed by the Soviets in 1940. Thousands of the bodies were found in mass graves in the former Soviet Union's Katyn Forest.

Sometime this week, between the low-traffic hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., the statue will be trucked to its pedestal at Aliceanna and President streets at Inner Harbor East. This last leg of the journey will involve the temporary removal of traffic lights to accommodate the statue's height.

Project organizers said the move would probably take place early tomorrow, with installation of the statue to begin Friday.

No dates have been set for dedication ceremonies. Given their experience, the memorial's supporters are refusing to schedule their final celebration until the long-awaited statue is, in Rybczynski's words, "in place and bolted down."

He said with a laugh, "I don't think any of us could live through another postponement."

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