By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
Lady Justice -- the 5 1/2- ton, 34-foot-tall statue atop the Blue Earth County Historic Courthouse -- took a quarter turn to the left and dropped her sword on Wednesday, prompting county officials to restrict public access to areas below the iconic but no-longer immobile figure.
"We have a portion of our parking lot blocked off and the Fourth Street entrance to the courthouse has been closed," said County Administrator Bob Meyer. "... What we're trying to do is secure the outside of the building so if something unfortunate were to happen nobody would get hurt."
Workers from Schwickert Company, a Mankato-based contractor that does commercial roofing, examined the sculpture from inside the domed tower of the 127-year-old courthouse Wednesday afternoon.
"We believe it's weather related," Meyer said.
Schwickert is scrambling to find a crane tall enough to lift workers to the statue for a closer examination and to bring her to the ground if it appears she's in danger of falling. While ground-zero of any impact has been blocked off, county officials are also worried about the well-being of Justice herself.
"It's one of the pieces of the building that is quite a symbol in our community, and we're pretty protective of it," Meyer said.
The sword dropped Wednesday afternoon, but there is some suspicion that the counterclockwise turn could have happened earlier, he said: "The piece falling off today brought it to everybody's attention."
Lady Justice was removed and restored in 1990 as part of a comprehensive renovation of the courthouse following its 1986 centennial. There were bullet holes in her copper gown, a large gouge in the arm holding the scales of justice and a large rip in the back of her gown. In addition, the metal seams below her outer sheath were rusting, and the wooden post holding her in place was rotting.
Any suspicion that Lady Justice's sudden turn and sword-toss were a reaction to a court verdict below her would be unfounded. Courtrooms were moved in 2009 to the new Blue Earth County Justice Center, about four miles away on Mankato's east side and well out of sight even from her lofty perch.
Of course, it's possible Lady Justice was just looking for a sunset vista after a long, cold winter and after more than a century of gazing toward North Mankato. Unlike many statues of Justice, Blue Earth County's doesn't wear a blindfold.