That’s when the wacky story began. Hauber mentioned to Spataro that Italian dive equipment manufacturer Egidio Cressi was having another replica statue made from the mold of Italian sculptor Guido Galletti’s Il Cristo degli Abissi. Hauber thought it would be a great draw for the convention.
The first replica made headlines when it was submerged in 1954 in San Fruttuoso Bay, Italy, near where Dario Gonzatti, the first Italian to use scuba gear, died seven years earlier.
The second replica was placed under water in 1961 near St. George’s Harbor in Grenada. It was a gift of the Navy of Genoa to the locals who helped rescue the crew of an Italian vessel that was destroyed by a fire in that harbor.
While the third replica was being constructed in 1961, Spataro traveled to several countries in Europe to taste wine. He ended up in Genoa to meet with Cressi. By this time, Cressi had decided to donate a third statue to the Underwater Society of America.
“I asked him, “How are you getting it to Chicago?’ ” Spataro said. “He said: ‘That’s your problem. I’m just giving it to you.’ ”
The convention budget had no money for that, so Spataro got creative. His father knew someone who worked at a steamship line, and he was able to wangle free passage for Jesus from Genoa to Navy Pier in Chicago.
Another friend had a trucking company, and Jesus got another free ride from the pier to the Palmer House. But when the union would agree only to halve its usual charge — to $900 — to take the statue up one story to the Grand Ballroom, Spataro said he enlisted another friend, a union baggage handler for TWA.
A minister who had escaped killings in Africa and was a friend of his cousin’s wrote the litany that was read at the convention’s dedication of the statue on Aug. 18, 1962. “I wish I could find it,” Spataro said. “It said this statue was for the ones who lived and worked and played and died at sea. He really did a nice job.”
After the convention, the statue was trucked to the TWA hangar at O’Hare airport, awaiting transportation 1,500 miles away to Pennekamp State Park.
At this point, according to a 1987 article published in several diving newsletters by Eva Mills Dunlap, the first 6,000 miles of the statue’s journey from Genoa to Chicago had cost only $25 — for insurance while it was displayed at the Palmer House.
With no funds to ship it to Florida, the statue sat at the airport. Within a month or so, it was moved to the Illinois National Guard hangar because one of Spataro’s pizza customers was a captain in the Guard and was willing to take the statue in a transport plane — if a plane were to be needed to fly to Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But the missile crisis was averted. Finally, Spataro said, he got a call on a snowy December night while working a banquet that a Navy Reserve plane could take the statue but was leaving imminently. A tuxedo-clad Spataro called the National Guard captain and friends to meet him at the hangar.
Using a forklift, the group got the statue to the Navy Reserve plane. The cargo opening was about 10 feet off the ground and at an angle. Because the statue was much heavier at its base, Spataro and the captain climbed onto the crate near the head to balance the weight.