HEBRON, Ky. – It's down to the final six.
Six Winold Reiss murals – the last currently housed inside mothballed terminals at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport – will be on the move this weekend, part of a multi-year effort to save the now twice-displaced works of art, more than 40 years after they were originally hoisted from Cincinnati's Union Terminal.
But following hours-long hauls Saturday and Sunday, their journey back across the Ohio River will be complete – at least for now. The pieces will join three others already relocated in April to the Duke Energy Convention Center – their new home – along an exterior western-facing wall, behind a protective glass display.
Ready to receive them are crews with Fenton Rigging. Bill Besl, chief operating officer, said the Cincinnati-based contractor has been tasked with offloading and installing the murals at Duke.
Fenton Rigging – alongside Besl Transfer Co., which was founded by Bill's grandfather, Frank Besl – handled the original move from Union Terminal to CVG back in 1972. He called it one of the most "notorious" jobs in the company's nearly 120-year history.
"That was the first job I ever remember being on. I was 11," he said. "It was very high profile even way back then."
Considered valuable pieces of local history, the murals – there's 14 surviving – each depict scenes from Cincinnati’s manufacturing past. Reiss, a German immigrant, was said to have personally visited at least 17 Cincinnati factories to photograph real workers as inspiration. "The result was a grittier, more realistic, and ultimately more engaging view of the people who built Cincinnati," author Daniel Hurley wrote in a 1993 article for Queen City Heritage. The mosaics, which date 1933, were removed from Union Terminal when its train concourse was slated for demolition.
"Part of the (original) job was to build a picture frame around these things since they were made into the wall in order to move them out onto the truck. Those frames still exist," Bill Besl said.
The murals are now shored by a steel casing. That will likely remain now, too, he said.
"I'd say everything is going to stay, because I think they're probably going to move again," he said. "But they're going to look nice."
The murals do, however, make for an awkward haul. Each is 20 feet tall, 20 feet wide, 8 inches thick, and weighs roughly 8 tons – 16 tons if counting the packing material. They're on the move – again – because the airport is demolishing the now-defunct terminals to make way for a new CONRAC, or consolidated rental care facility. Five murals located in CVG's main terminal are staying.
The Kenton County Airport Board, which oversees operations at CVG, awarded a nearly $2 million bid to O'Rourke Wrecking Company last year to remove and transport the murals to Cincinnati. The City of Cincinnati's installation cost is $750,000. Those funds will be repaid via the hotel/motel tax over five years, officials have said.
Making the move this weekend are murals American Laundry Machine, once the world's largest manufacturers of laundry equipment for commercial outfits, hospitals and hotels; American Rolling, which employed about 4,000 people locally and 12,000 nationally in the 1930s; American Oak Leather, once the largest tannery in operation; U.S. Playing Card, which depicts workers at the Norwood company operating a printing press; Crosley Broadcasting, a piece highlighting both the artistic and technical side of radio; and Aeronautical Corp., in which two workers assemble one of Aeronca's small mass-marketed planes.
Three others, Cincinnati Milling Machining, E. Khan’s & Sons, and Procter & Gamble were moved with much fanfare in early April. They're still cloaked behind materials used to make the transfer. The City of Cincinnati is planning a formal unveiling ceremony once all have been delivered. That date has not yet been released.
“I’m excited that these important pieces of artwork will once again be on public display for everyone to see and enjoy," Mayor Cranley said.
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