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Massive King memorial nearly ready for trip to Mall for assembly

Chinese sculpter Lei Yixin works on the granite head that will cap the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the Mall.
Chinese sculpter Lei Yixin works on the granite head that will cap the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the Mall. (Courtesy Of Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation)
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"It's going to be happening very soon," Jackson said.

The carving is about 80 percent complete, project officials said. The sculptor, Lei Yixin, plans to finish the work in Washington as the pieces are assembled this summer and fall.

The King memorial, located not far from the Lincoln Memorial where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, is to be built on a crescent-shaped, four-acre site amid the city's famed cherry trees.

The three main elements resemble a simulated stone mountain from which the center has been carved out and placed by itself in the foreground.

The centerpiece -- named the Stone of Hope for a line from the 1963 speech -- is 30 feet 8 inches tall and bears the image of King in a business suit with his arms folded.

Although not as large as some of Washington's equestrian monuments, it will be bigger than the 19-foot statue of Jefferson in the Jefferson Memorial, the 19-foot 6-inch statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial and the 19-foot 6-inch statue of Freedom on the U.S. Capitol dome.

"That is a really massive piece of sculpture," said Kirk Savage, professor of the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of a recent book on Washington's monuments.

The two background pieces -- together called the Mountain of Despair from the same line in the speech -- are of similar size and frame a walkway through which visitors may pass to get to the King sculpture.

Each of the three parts weighs thousands of tons, even with a core of concrete, and will rest on the mushy ground beneath the Mall west of the Washington Monument. Hence the pilings.

Many of the Mall's monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the FDR Memorial, rest on pilings for support. The World War II Memorial rests on almost 500 piles, according to Kenneth J. Terry, construction executive with Tompkins Builders, one of the King project contractors. "If it didn't, it would sink," he said.

Jackson, the executive architect, said: "It's like having cookie dough. We're driving piles into the cookie dough. It's like sticking your finger into it, and you stick your finger into it until you get to the bottom of the pan."

The ground is soft because it is mostly mud that was dredged from the Potomac River in the late 1800s and used as fill.

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