Gordon Ponsford contracted with the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change to prepare a Bible that belonged to King to be used in President Barack Obama’s second inauguration ceremony on Monday.
The third-generation conservator said he performed minor work on King’s traveling Bible, using adhesives to reattach some leather that had gotten loose.
But Ponsford’s assistant, Julie Julian of Wildwood, said he is being modest when he discusses the magic he did on the historic work. She compared the work on the Bible to taking a raggedy doll and making it look new again.
“It just needed a little TLC,” Julian said. “To watch Gordon bring it back to life is an amazing experience.”
Julian sees the Bible, which has already been shipped to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration, as an important piece of the past and the future.
Ponsford said the Bible is one of three that will be used for the inauguration, which includes Obama’s swearing-in on Monday, the holiday that honors King’s birthday.
“To hold it and know that great people held it, and our president is about to put his hand on it, and know that I put my hand on it — that’s a thrill I can’t describe,” Ponsford said.
While Ponsford has restored historic documents, including former President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, he is just as comfortable working on much larger items. Among the projects he has completed are restoration work on the Tomb of the Unknowns and the gravesites of former President Kennedy and his brother Robert, all at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.
And Saturday, Ponsford will clean King’s tomb in Atlanta. The task mainly involves removing the effects of years of pollution in the downtown area, which can get in the stone if not treated. He will be assisted there by his 12-year-old daughter Samantha, who will fly down from Maryland, as well as three young Georgians.
“It’s truly amazing the history I get to touch,” Ponsford said.
With the tomb where King and his wife Coretta are laid to rest surrounded by water, Ponsford said he will place stepping blocks in the reflecting pool to allow him to reach the gravesite.
Ponsford points out that after working on King’s tomb, along with the Kennedy brothers, he will have restored the final resting places of three of the four assassinated leaders referred to in the 1968 song, “Abraham, Martin and John.” He will only need to restore Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Ill., something he’d someday like to do, in order to complete the cycle.
Going from restoring a large tomb to a Bible isn’t as complicated as it sounds, Ponsford said. With any historic item, the key idea is “do no harm.”
“If you’re a Ferrari or Lamborghini mechanic, you can easily work on a Volkswagen,” he said. “If you’re a Volkswagen mechanic, you can’t work on a Lamborghini.”