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story.lead_photo.caption Timothy Riley, director and chief curator at the National Churchill Museum, looks on as the statue of Churchill is lowered onto a waiting trailer. It'll undergo cleaning and conservation work during its absence, he said. Photo by Helen Wilbers / News Tribune.

Sir Winston Churchill is taking a brief but deserved vacation during ongoing renovations at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton.

The museum's full-body statue of Churchill — which normally resides outside next to the stairs — was temporarily removed for safekeeping Wednesday.

Timothy Riley, the museum's Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout director and chief curator, said the statue's base was unstable, and the statue was at risk of being damaged by construction equipment.

"This is just a temporary removal to keep him out of harm's way," he said, adding Churchill's perilous position next to the heavy machinery had been a source of stress. "I feel much better now than I did this morning with the boom circling in the air overhead."

Riley remarked it was interesting to see Churchill in flight again as the statue was lofted from its perch onto a flatbed trailer.

"He came here originally in 1970 on a private plane chartered by the Royal Air Service," he said.

The current work is part of a $1 million improvement and preservation project focusing on and around St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury historic church, which sits above the museum. Previous phases have included stone preservation, roof work and a new storm window to protect one of the church's historic windows.

"The church has been in Fulton for 50 years, but it's existed for 350," Riley said. "It's high time to do something to ensure it's around for the foreseeable future."

Crews are currently working to improve drainage around the museum, which sits underground and often has stormwater intrusion following heavy rain.

"We can't take the risk of (flooding) doing permanent damage," Riley said.

A new drainage system will be installed, and new storm drains put in by the city will whisk the water away from the museum.

Riley estimates the work will be complete and Churchill will be back on a newly rebuilt base by fall.

In the meantime, the statue will undergo cleaning and conservation.

"Over the decades, Churchill has seen a lot of pigeons befriend him, and the acid from the droppings has taken its toll," he said. "We'll be doing some conservation work, and when we put him back up, he'll look brand new."

The cleaning is being carried out by experts who have previously worked to preserve major monuments in Washington, D.C., Riley added.

The museum is closed to the public during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's easier to do this safely and efficiently and, frankly, at a more accelerated place than when the public is also in the museum," Riley said. "We're taking this global pandemic crisis and making the best of a bad situation."

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