A more than seven-hour struggle to lift a statue of P.G.T. Beauregard off its pedestal in front of City Park ended in success shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday, raising cheers from many in the bleary-eyed crowd and leaving just one more Confederate monument for removal under a plan championed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
As the whir of power tools and clanging of hammers resounded across the waters of Bayou St. John, the operation to remove the statue seemed to start, stop and sputter at times. In the end, however, a group of masked workers were able to secure the statue to a hulking yellow crane and lift it into the air.
After more than 7 hours of prep, workers lifted the statue of P.G.T. Beauregard from the base it had sat on for nearly 102 years.
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Beauregard — and his horse — were then deposited onto a waiting truck bed, to be placed in storage.
“Today we take another step in defining our City not by our past but by our bright future,” Landrieu said in a statement before the statue was removed. “While we must honor our history, we will not allow the Confederacy to be put on a pedestal in the heart of New Orleans. As we near our City’s 300th anniversary, we must continue to find courage to stand up to hate and embrace justice and compassion.”
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Ryan Berni, the deputy mayor for external affairs, immediately took to Twitter to announce that the large stone base of the Beauregard monument would not be removed “at this time.” That announcement seemed to forestall the possibility of continued, disruptive operations at the major traffic intersection.
The removal comes nearly two years after Mayor Mitch Landrieu first called for statues of Beauregard, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis to be removed, along with a statue to the white supremacist militia known as the White League. A six-month process of public hearings, followed by more than a year of legal battles, delayed those removals until late last month.
Of the four targeted monuments, only the statue of Robert E. Lee — above a giant pedestal in Lee Circle — remains. The statue’s size and location in the city’s core could make its removal a tricky operation.
Beauregard’s safe landing was preceded by a drawn-out operation that began about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, as police erected a wide cordon around the site.
Shortly before 9 p.m., cranes and cherry pickers drove into a circle around the base of the statute. Two workers measured the statue with a long tape. For hours after, workers continued with a series of tasks. They encased the statue in protective green bubble wrap. They attached yellow slings to the statue. They tied a guideline.
If there is a case to be made for Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, it is probably this: At least he a…
The workers carrying out the statue’s removal were clad in helmets, masks and ballistic vests. The city has said that gear is necessary for their protection because of threats made over the removal of the monuments.
The work seemed to suffer setbacks at times. At one point some of the bubble wrap fluttered in the air. At another point the slings were removed, then replaced.
Meanwhile, the crowd was growing restless. Dozens stood on two sides of the barricades — some on one side waving Confederate flags, some on the other shouting to “Take Em Down!”
Despite taunts across the metal dividing lines, the protest remained largely peaceful. Police detained three people after a pile of flags was set on fire. A Police Department spokesman said that two of them would likely face municipal charges of public drunkenness and arson. No further details were immediately available Wednesday.
At about 1:15 a.m., a brass band emerged from the oaks on Esplanade Avenue to cheer on the anti-monument protesters. Damian Carter, who came with a trumpet, said its members were a mix of different bands from Uptown, downtown and New Orleans East.
It's 1:15 a.m. and New Orleans is taking down a Confederate monument — cue the brass band.
“We just saw it on Facebook,” Carter said. “You know how New Orleans do a goodbye.”
The goodbye — when it finally came — produced a mix of reactions from the dwindling group of onlookers.
“Bravo, traitors!” shouted one woman on the pro-monument side.
Malcolm Suber, a longtime proponent of removing the monuments, gave a cheer instead. Then an admonition.
“Alright y’all, time to get some sleep!” he said.