Dear Mr. Mudd: Were Workers Killed Installing a Sculpture on Princeton’s Campus?

Dear Mr. Mudd,

Is it true that people were killed during the installation of a sculpture the Princeton campus? Is the sculpture still there?

Indeed, this occurred, and the story is quite gruesome. In 1970, workers with Industrial Engineering Works, Inc. attempted to install a sculpture by Alexander Calder on campus, then known as “Orange Discs.” While they were leveling it, a cable on the crane used to lift it into place snapped. Robert J. Fuccello, age 37, was trapped under the fallen jib and hung from the structure for three hours before another crane could be brought in to lift it. The end of the jib also crushed the skull of Edwin Dillon, 57, when it fell. The accident killed Fuccello and Dillon instantly. Another worker, Daniel McVicar, 71, was also hit in the head, but his life was spared by a steel construction hat. He was taken to a hospital for treatment and later released. Reports in local newspapers say that the crane operator, Otha Hilliard, started sobbing and saying, “I couldn’t do anything. I should have done something. They’re dead.”

With what in retrospect seems like a strange premonition for his future, Fuccello had told Princeton’s Town Topics in 1963, “People are getting killed all the time in my profession and nobody says anything.” Fuccello’s widow filed suit against Princeton University following her husband’s death, saying they had required her husband’s employer to install the sculpture in an unsafe manner. The crane itself was able to lift 2.75 tons safely from the distance it was from the sculpture, but the sculpture weighs 4.5 tons. Dillon’s widow also sued Princeton. We have thus far not been able to determine the outcome of these lawsuits.

“Five Disks: One Empty.” Photo by Kingston Xu ’16 for the Daily Princetonian, 2015.

Witnessing the incident was traumatic for staff who worked in that area. For a while, the sculpture was removed for repairs, since it was bent in the accident. Though there was some discussion of perhaps not installing it in the same location, ultimately the administration concluded that because it had been commissioned for the math-physics complex, it should be put there anyway. A memorial plaque was later placed on a nearby balustrade.

After Calder visited the campus to see his work, he was horrified that Princeton had painted it orange and black. The original piece had one orange disk, but Princeton had painted all of the disks orange. Calder thought this was hideous, so he demanded that the piece be painted entirely black and the name be changed. After the repainting, “Orange Discs” became “Five Disks: One Empty.” It still stands in its original location.