The Mullen Monument – Not What It Used To Be

By Nancy Grundahl

I won’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of the Philadelphia sculptor, Daniel Kornbau. I hadn’t either until I began researching my ancestry. I learned that Daniel was the brother of my great grandmother Emma. His most famous work is the Mullen Monument, which was commissioned by the millionaire William James Mullen. It was, in fact, on display at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park. You can see it today in Laurel Hill Cemetery, where its location is marked on the visitors’ map. For Rocky fans, Laurel Hill is the cemetery where Adrian Balboa was buried.

After seeing many photos of the Mullen Monument on the web, I was surprised to see how weathered it was “in person.” Sharp edges were rounded. You can barely read Daniel’s name and address under the seated woman. Years of acid rain have not been kind to my great uncle’s work of art.

Philadelphia is downwind of many industrial sources of sulfur dioxides (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions, particularly power plants that burn fossil fuels. These pollutants combine with moisture in the air to form the acid rain that reacts with the calcite in marble and limestone, causing the calcite to dissolve, destroying the fine details that Daniel worked so well to create.

The good news is that in the last few years, pollutants causing acid rain in the Philadelphia area have been reduced by actions including installing additional controls on power plants and burning cleaner coal. And, it was a pleasure to see Administrator Jackson’s recent announcement about requiring significant new reductions in power plant mercury and toxic emissions.

What can we do to help? Conserve energy, since energy production causes the largest portion of the acid rain problem. In this way we can help preserve fine works of art for future generations.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. She currently works in Program Support for the Water Protection Division. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created.

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