Little is known about the six men who lost their lives during construction of the Minnesota State Capitol between 1898 and 1905.
One, John Corrigan, was just 18. Another, Florian Zauner, was about 45 and fell to his death from a scaffold in August 1900, according to a century-old newspaper clipping. Felix Arthur was fatally injured in a marble planing machine in 1898; Alfred Magnuson "fell from a wall" and died in June 1900, other articles said.
But their life stories and those of the other two — John Biersack and Albert Swanson — have faded in the past 100 years. Their names, however, will live in perpetuity on a brass plaque unveiled Sunday afternoon as part of a three-day grand opening marking the end of a $310 million, nearly four-year renovation of the stately building designed by architect Cass Gilbert.
The plaque came about thanks to efforts of students at Willow Creek Intermediate School in Owatonna, Minn., who petitioned the Legislature to honor the men. The co-winners of the design competition, also from Willow Creek, were honored. So, too, were the original builders and their descendants and the men and women who put in more than 1.4 million hours on the renovation. Forty percent of those work hours were performed by women and minorities, several speakers noted.
The low-ceilinged L'Etoile du Nord Vault in the basement of the Capitol was packed as speakers explained and praised the work then and now.
Jackie Sheehan of Burnsville learned just six weeks ago that her great-grandfather John Kuettel had been a stonemason on the Capitol. She and her husband toured the building in June and stopped in the rotunda to listen to Gov. Mark Dayton talk about the three-day celebration.
She picked up a brochure and "lo and behold, my great-grandpa is listed," she said. "I was delighted. I was astounded. I felt connected to Minnesota history. It created a lot of pride."
Sheehan started contacting family, and 70 to 80 descendants — many of whom had never met — came to town for a reunion at the family home in Farmington on Saturday and the ceremony Sunday. Many wore matching T-shirts featuring a drawing of the Capitol on the front and "I'm a descendant of John Kuettel," along with his photo, on the back. "I will never forget this weekend," Sheehan said. "This is a very special time in our family."
Marvin Roger Anderson's grandfather, Ernest Jones, was one of 12 African-American stonemasons brought to Minnesota from Chicago.
"It's a wonderful part of our family legacy to know that grandfather played a role," said Anderson of St. Paul. "They were accepted as artisans and brought here with the understanding that these men were stonemasons."
Jones was a free man who grew up on a farm in Union City, Tenn., his grandson said. He returned to Chicago in 1906, but some of his family stayed in the Twin Cities.
Arthur Bourgeault, 95, of Richfield, sat in the front row Sunday, dapper in suit and tie. He was the only descendant present at Sunday's ceremony who had personally interacted with one of the original builders. His grandfather, Joseph Bourgeault, from Winnipeg, was a supervisor of stone cutters and had told his grandson "a little bit about how they cut the stone on the job," he said.
Matt Massman, commissioner of the state Department of Administration, emceed the hourlong program. He talked about the hundreds of people who have toured the Capitol during the three-day celebration and the thousands of people on the lawn for the fireworks on Saturday night.
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith spoke, as did Dayton and other elected officials, building trades officials and project engineers from Minneapolis-based HGA Architects and Engineers.
"I want to just say thank you, from all of Minnesota, thank you from the bottom of our hearts," Dayton said.