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Houdini-inspired sculpture returns to Appleton

The well-known sculpture "Metamorphosis,” which once adorned Houdini Plaza, is moved to a trail head along the Fox River at the south end of Appleton’s Lawe Street bridge on June 29. (Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin/The Post-Crescent via AP)

The well-known sculpture “Metamorphosis,” which once adorned Houdini Plaza, is moved to a trail head along the Fox River at the south end of Appleton’s Lawe Street bridge on June 29. (Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin/The Post-Crescent via AP)

Duke Behnke
Post Crescent

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — The “Metamorphosis” sculpture that disappeared from Houdini Plaza a decade ago has reappeared at a plaza along the Fox River at the south end of the Lawe Street bridge.

“I’m really pleased with the way this has turned out,” Alex Schultz, executive director of Sculpture Valley, told the Post Crescent. “You get sort of this vague, abstract sense that this box is sitting on a stage, and I think it looks great.”

Richard C. Wolter’s “Metamorphosis” is an abstract metal box that is balanced on the point of one of its corners and draped with a padlocked chain. It pays tribute to the illusionist Harry Houdini’s famous trick in which he escaped from a chain-bound trunk.

The artwork was given to Appleton in 1985 by Boldt Development Corp. It anchored Houdini Plaza until 2010, when it was removed because its base was deteriorating. When Houdini Plaza was renovated in 2013, the sculpture wasn’t re-introduced and was instead kept in storage at an Appleton parks and recreation building at Memorial Park.

Schultz had been working to get “Metamorphosis” back into public view since 2013.
“It’s good to finally get it done,” he said.

Last summer the Appleton Common Council agreed to give the 20-by-20-foot sculpture a permanent home along the Fox River on a city-owned property acquired for the construction of the Lawe Street Trestle Trail. The trail will connect to the North Island Trail, cross the Fox River and extend past Eagle Point Senior Living to John Street.

Tom Flick, deputy director of parks, recreation and facilities management, said the trestle trail should open in the next two or three weeks.

“It’s probably 90% complete right now,” Flick said. “We’re waiting on some electrical components to arrive for the flashing lights at the pedestrian-bicycle crossing on Lawe Street. That’s a very critical safety measure.”

A column with a refurbished plaque tying Houdini to the site will be moved to the “Metamorphosis” plaza. The plaque says, “Near this spot Harry Houdini nearly drowned as a boy. He later said that he was saved only by a heroic effort on the part of one of his playmates. Some historians believe this incident sparked his fascination with escaping from watery graves, one of the trademarks that established Houdini as the world’s greatest escapologist.”

The installation, on June 29, of the newly refurbished “Metamorphosis” went anything but smoothly.

Officials estimated the weight of the sculpture at 5,000 pounds. The crane they hired for the job was supposed to be capable of lifting that much but later proved to be undersized and set the sculpture down short of its mark.

Tom Boldt, CEO of The Boldt Co., saved the day by providing a larger crane to safely lift the sculpture into place.

“He was here on site just watching it being lifted into place and saw the issue that we ran into,” Flick said. “He graciously said, ‘I’ll get a bigger crane down here ASAP.’ He made it happen.”

Flick said the sculpture was scratched “more than we were hoping for” during the installation. “I’m sure they will have to do some touch-up,” he said.

The cost of the restoration, repainting, concrete work and installation totaled nearly $22,400. The expense was included in the $1.3 million budget for the Lawe Street Trestle Trail.

“Boldt Construction donated the transportation of the monument to the contractor that repaired it and painted it, so we didn’t have those costs for shipping from Appleton to Athens, Wisconsin,” Flick said.

Appleton secured $450,000 in grants to offset the cost of the trestle-trail project.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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