Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

The Limestone that Turned to GraniteI had just opened the door to the restaurant and was about to sit down when Flo came running out of the kitchen crying, with a fly swatter in her hand.  She ran up to me and said she thought she saw a rat run across the floor. At first, I had to laugh due to the fact that she thought she could defend herself with a fly swatter. Well, I’ve been known in the past to be able to sniff out rats, so I volunteered to take a look. 

Like something out of a sit-com, Flo grabbed hold of my trench coat as I slowly walked into the kitchen. I told her to be quiet so we wouldn’t scare the rat away.  Just as I was about to open the freezer, I saw a tiny mouse run toward me. I jumped a little and Flo ran out of the kitchen screaming. 

The mouse scampered out of the kitchen behind Flo and ran toward the front door. It just so happened that a customer was walking in and the mouse ran straight out the door.  By this time, Flo was perched on the counter having hysterics. I calmed her down and told her that the evil beast was not a rat, but a little tiny mouse. I told her it was completely harmless. Well, relatively harmless unless a health inspector spots it.

She gave me “a look”, got down off the counter and served me my first cup of coffee.  During this drama the ole admiral was sitting there snickering under his breath. He turned to me and said, “You shoulda seen the size of the rats on the aircraft carrier I was on back in the ‘50s.” I just nodded, looked over at Flo, smiled and ordered my breakfast. Little did I know that today’s stone mystery would be another case of mistaken identity.

 Just as Flo brought me my breakfast, I got a text on my phone. The text was kind of odd since it just said, “Call Me”. The number had an out-of-state area code, and my phone didn’t recognize the number, either.  But I thought it had to be someone I knew. 

I replied to the text with a simple “OK”. I finished my breakfast and headed out the door. Just as I was opening the door I turned to Flo and said, “I’ll tell Micky you said hi, if I see him out here.”  She raised her hand and… well, you can guess the rude gesture she gave me. 

I hopped in the ole Woody and called the mystery texter.  A gentleman answered and said he was an architect in Ohio. He told me he got my name from a local stone installer and thought I could help with an old historic limestone fountain they were looking to restore. He told me it was flaking and peeling, and he needed to have it inspected to see if it could be repaired, or if the entire fountain needed to be replaced.  I told him I could get out there the following week to take a look.

After an uneventful week (no more Mickey) the day of departure arrived, and I headed out the door for the airport. Flying these days is not like it used to be in the old days. It’s funny that with the COVID pandemic, they make you social distance in the check out line and the TSA check point. Even when they board the plane they only allow 10 people at a time aboard. Then when you get on board, the plane is packed and you’re sitting next to complete strangers. I don’t get it. Anyway, I was on my way to Ohio to look at what I thought was going to be a common limestone failure.

I rented my car and headed to the address the architect had given me. I arrived on-site and was hardly out of my car when this very large gentleman greeted me. He was the spitting image of the actor John Goodman. He even talked like him with the same accent. He shook my hand and told me the fountain was across the street. I grabbed my bag of testing equipment and followed him as he led me across the street.

He led me into an parking lot behind a big office building. Sitting on a several pallets were pieces of this fountain. I walked up to it and at first thought it could be Indiana Limestone. Upon closer inspection, I saw several areas that were peeling and there appeared to be a different stone under the flakes.  I took out a screw driver and started chipping away at the flakes and discovered that the fountain was a gray granite and not limestone at all. It appeared as though someone had coated it with a thin Portland cement! Why someone would do this was a mystery to me. 

This entire time, I was being watched carefully by the architect, and a gathering group of people who came out of  the building. I assumed they were all city employees. Later I would find out that in fact, they were. 

 I looked at the crowd and told them what I found.  The coating came off easily and to my surprise the granite underneath was in good shape. It was still highly polished.  I tapped the entire fountain to look for soft spots in the stone and it was solid. I assured the architect and my audience that it appeared as thought the fountain was in good shape and I would write up a restoration procedure. Of course, I cautioned them that there may be some surprise once all the coating is removed. One of the people in the crowd asked me what kind of surprise. I told them there could be graffiti on the stone that they couldn’t remove, so they covered it up. I actually see this a lot, but usually the graffiti is covered up with paint and not concrete. Anyway, I completed my inspection and headed back to the airport to see if I could catch an early flight home. Another case solved – a simple case of mistaken identity.

The Stone Detective is a fictional character created by Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD, written to entertain and educate. Dr. Fred has written over 33 books on stone and tile installations, fabrication and restoration and also serves as an expert for many legal cases across the world. Fred has also been writing for the
Slippery Rock Gazette for over 20 years. 

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