The 18-foot Greek goddess of divine law that crowned the McLennan County Courthouse for the first time Saturday is following the precedent of her Austin counterpart.
The Goddess of Liberty topping the Capitol Dome has a similar backstory as Themis, Texas Historical Commission architect Brit Barr said.
“That’s also a cast aluminum replica of the original zinc statue,” Barr said. “Much taller than this, much uglier, she’s not ugly just to be ugly but her facial features are very pronounced so that you can actually see a face from 300 feet down on the ground.
“The original statue at the Capitol is now at the Bob Bullock History Center so you can get right up close to it and really appreciate the craftsmanship that went into it. So that’s the precedent, and we hope something similar can happen here and the original Themis will be on display somewhere here in Waco and people can go by and see it and marvel at the fact that she stood on top of that 170-foot-high dome for over 100 years.”
The new Themis topping the courthouse may look the same, but she’s made from a stronger cast aluminum material than the zinc original. Because of the material change, the new statue weighs in at about 1,700 pounds, 1,000 pounds more than the original.
The courthouse dome has sat bare since July when the original Themis was lowered from her lofty perch.
More than a dozen vehicles with crews from Montgomery Construction early Saturday used two cranes to load the new duplicate Themis onto a flatbed trailer to haul her from Lorena to downtown Waco as they prepared to hoist her onto the courthouse. Once propped up behind the courthouse, Themis’ scales of justice were passed to Barr, then to the county’s facilities director, T.J. Jackson, then to James Lenart, assistant director of facilities, before County Judge Scott Felton lifted the scales to workers who installed them in the statue’s hand.
“She’s a big ol’ gal,” Felton said standing alongside her.
The scales of justice are fixed in the new statue’s hand, while the originals would twist and turn in the wind, Montgomery Construction general manager Mike Anderson said. The new left arm holding the scales is also a lot stouter to ensure it is not blown off the statue, as the last one was during a storm in 2015, after more than a century weathering the elements.
“It’s going to be up there a long time,” Anderson said of the replacement.
The county awarded Montgomery Construction a contract to replace Themis for $428,388.19. Robinson Iron Co. in Alexander City, Alabama, duplicated the statue.
County commissioners agreed to have the statue replicated rather than repaired because of the original’s fragility.
The original remains on two queen-size inflatable air mattresses in an 8-by-16-foot wooden crate awaiting her retirement.
“She’s actually in good shape,” Barr said. “She’s been repaired. An original zinc statue, she’s much more brittle than the cast aluminum. We hope it ends up in a public place so that people can see it close-up.”
Visitors of the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, set up across Washington Avenue from the courthouse, shielded their eyes from the sun as they looked up toward the crane lifting Themis far above the courthouse dome before lowering her into position.
“The commissioners and county judge should be commended for their continued efforts to preserve our historic courthouse,” said 54th State District Judge Matt Johnson, the county’s resident historian.