PEMBROKE, IL—The Bernstein-Grey construction company announced the completion of the world’s longest wall yesterday, putting the final touches on the single greatest feat in U.S. architectural history. The Big Wall of Pembroke, a joint effort between the town’s beautification committee and the board of tourism, measures a full 23 1/3 feet long by 11 2/3 feet tall by 36 inches thick. Its construction began in December 1995 and ended yesterday amid great fanfare and excitement.
“No one has built a wall of this size and scope in the history of the world,” said Bernstein/Grey president Arthur Bernstein, who personally oversaw a project that was largely scorned by the U.S. architectural community. “I challenge anyone to even attempt such a grand wall.”
As all 2,300 residents of Pembroke gathered at the wall’s base for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, Mayor Arty Leucking addressed the crowd.
“We are very, very pleased with the wall,” Leucking said. “There were plenty of naysayers in this community, people who doubted its feasibility. But their protests are forever silenced now that the finished wall has been unveiled. It is indeed a mighty, even ‘great’ wall.”
Added Pembroke alder Kate Dermot: “The wall is huge. If there is a wall this large anywhere else, I’ve never seen it, and I’ve been all over the tri-county area. It’s even visible by helicopter, provided you don’t go too high.”
From the outset, the Big Wall had the trappings of an engineering impossibility. Architects the world over were consulted, but all but one turned down the project for undisclosed reasons. The job was eventually accepted by Bernstein-Grey, a prestigious firm based in nearby Grainger, IN. The firm submitted and saw rejected nearly two dozen designs before a final plan was agreed upon.
“We were very nervous about the scale of the wall, its sheer enormity,” architect Ken Millin said. “Consequently, we were overly cautious in our design. We submitted plans for a 15-foot wall made of plastic, a 19-foot wall made of ceramic-covered aluminum, and a 20-foot wall made of a uranium shell with a liquid mercury-based ore center. They were all turned down because they were too small.”
The final design employs a series of interlocking blocks of fired clay stacked atop one another and covered with an experimental plaster substitute.
“That design we knew was a keeper,” Millin said. “It combines architectural dynamics the world has never seen—something that is going to last 10, maybe 20 years of harsh southern Illinois winters.”
Despite the overwhelming excitement surrounding the wall, its construction was not without problems. In January, a strong wind destroyed two-thirds of the structure. Although there were no injuries, a full eight feet of the wall had to be rebuilt.
Further tragedy marred the wall in early March, when construction worker Bart Meadows, who was working at the top, fell off his ladder. He suffered a bruise to his shoulder and scraped his knee on a pebble.
“It hurt a lot,” Meadows said. “I had to go get a Band-Aid, and for the next week, every time I lifted my arm it was kinda sore.”
Even when the Big Wall was proposed, a dream of a small but dedicated group of boosters, opposition within the community nearly derailed it.
“It wasn’t that they couldn’t see the necessity for the wall,” Dermot said. “It’s just that a project of this magnitude had never been conceived before. A wall this large? Impossible!”
The Big Wall has spawned a number of businesses selling memorabilia, including T-shirts with slogans such as, “You saw a bigger wall where?” and “I went to the Big Wall of Pembroke and here’s a T-shirt that proves it.”
Now that the wall is complete, plans will commence for new, four-sided hollow structures for human habitation, allowing Pembroke residents to leave their dank cave dwellings.
Said Leucking: “The only glitch is that the proposed structures have a propensity for letting in rain. Once we solve that, we will be able to live in comfort and ease until our God comes down and takes us home.”