Lately, I haven’t been blogging. I have been moving. Or, more precisely, thinking about moving. Thinking of packing up my hundreds of books, once again. Will there be room for my old typewriters? Will be there be a bit of green space for future flower hopefuls? Time will tell, as we do not know yet where we are going to land.
So my concentration is divided, and I do apologize. Coming up, I can tell you, in all bookish excitement, that Margaret Kennedy reading day is approaching, hosted by Jane at Beyond Eden Rock, so there will be a review here of the most intriguing Kennedy book I’ve read thus far: The Feast. And I have been enjoying Beverley Nichols books again–oh he is funny, and rather ‘twee’!– and I’m preparing some notes for further posts.
But for now, let’s do a bit of a recycle. I have been working on the following subject/article for some time, published some of it a couple years ago on another blog, and, as they like to say in journalism: ‘research is ongoing‘.
How about a ten minute mystery that has taken almost 100 years to develop?
photo credit Marie E. Bryan, used with her permission; it is unique in that it is one of the few pictures out there that actually shows a modern version of the statue in its headless state
This mystery involves a headless statue of Abraham Lincoln that used to reside in Ashland, Oregon. (Less to the point, we also ponder whether or not I will need facial recognition software to identify my great grandmother in a vintage photo.)
Questions about what drives senseless vandalism, why did Ashum Butler commit suicide in 1859, and did Great Uncle Cromwell ever smile anywhere at any time also factor in here, but—we only have ten minutes. And I have to box up my enormous collection of old hardback books…that I keep stopping to read before I carefully place them in their dark recesses for the coming suspension of normal life.
Abraham Lincoln wasn’t headless to begin with. He was respectfully and beautifully carved by Italian artisans from local marble, shipped in 1915 to the United States for the San Francisco Panama Pacific Expo, purchased there for a tidy sum by Gwin S. Butler, and given by him as a gift to Lithia Park in Ashland, Oregon.
The bestowal of this unique gift to Lithia Park was to honor the memory of Butler’s stepfather, Jacob Thompson. Inscription upon the stone base reads:
IN MEMORY Of JACOB THOMPSON PIONEER OF 1847
In circa 1920 or 1921, my great Aunt Alma took this picture. Unwittingly, in a stroke of irony, she cut off Old Abe’s head by the magic of photography. Less brutal than vandalism but just as permanent in its own way.
This picture was taken around 1920
For some mysterious reason, Abraham Lincoln has continued to lose his head. The actual marble head. (He has also lost a hand and two fingers, more easily replaced.)
When I first talked to the lady at the Ashland Historical Society (or of similar name) she was excited to think that I actually had a picture from the 1920’s of the original statue’s head.
“Uh, no,” I had to admit, “It was cut off in the photo.”
Oh, Aunt Alma, what were the chances??
Abe was first decapitated in 1958. Repaired and replaced, the second beheading occurred in 1967.
Following the 1967 vandalism, the statue was removed and languished in ignominy on the ground at a sewage treatment plant for years. Complaints were made, and the statue was ‘rescued’ by being wrapped in plastic and buried in a slope near the park playground.
The third beheading occurred in 1973. This time he was repaired with a head from China.
It’s unclear what happened with that head, but in 1988 a local sculptor volunteered to create a new head from Italian marble. He worked at a reduced rate, funding was secured, and Abraham Lincoln was saved once again.
By this time they were keeping ‘replacement heads’.
The last time the statue was vandalized, in 2005, the park authorities eventually removed the body entirely. They were tired of putting out money to restore it only to have to do it again. The money for restoration simply wasn’t there.
So; when I was there in 2014, the stone base still stands empty, yet still inscribed… ‘In memory of…’
How very strange. How very sad.
There is a personal side to this story. Although I grew up in Oregon, had been to Ashland many times, I had not been aware of the statue or its sad history until I inherited an old family picture album around 2009. Most of my mom’s family comes from Texas, and the vast majority of the pictures were taken there during the years of 1900 through 1930. I didn’t know, or have stories attached to most of the people in the album. The truth is, my mom’s side of the family intrigues me. There are many stories and hints of stories that have trickled through the family that both fascinate and unsettle.
I kept returning to this odd picture. I couldn’t stop analyzing it. For one thing, it didn’t look like Texas. There were little baby Douglas fir trees in it. And moisture loving ferns. Do people plant Douglas fir or ferns in Texas? I didn’t think so. At least, not the part where my mom grew up.
The other oddity was the fact that I couldn’t tell who was in it—but had a sneaking suspicion they were related to me. I knew my great Aunt Alma had taken the picture. (that is her trademark hat, lying on the ground.) And from the jawline of the elderly woman, I wondered if it was my great grandmother, Talitha. I only had one confirmed picture of my great grandmother, under a mourning bonnet. But even there, her jawline looked formidable. And was that Uncle Cromwell? The same Uncle Cromwell who would be dead less than a year later?
My mother, by that time, had Alzheimer’s and completely lost in her own world. There was so much I wanted to ask her.
I zoomed in on the photograph, to read the inscription, then did a google search. I was amazed to find that the statue was in Oregon. I was even able to identify the people in the photograph—without resorting to facial recognition software—and confirm my suspicion that it was my great grandmother Duncan and her oldest son, my mom’s Uncle Cromwell. But in Oregon? That explained the baby Douglas fir trees and ferns, but I was baffled to think my somewhat reclusive great grandmother had ever traveled to Oregon.
My Aunt Alma’s trademark hat, seen lying on the ground, was a clue that this picture was taken by her. She had moved to Oregon in 1919.
I was then even more amazed to discover the bizarre events surrounding Abe’s statue.
There is more to this story, for isn’t it interesting when you discover an ancestor or relation that you didn’t know existed, or at least anything about, and then, in small bursts of excitement, find out you were actually much alike? Or perhaps they inspired something you thought you had come up with on your own? Well…my Great Aunt Alma, her story, and her old traveling camera may return to these blog pages, but for now:
Notes, sources, and additional reading:
This link has some excellent pictures, and some updates on Abe’s location: http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMN90A_Statue_of_Abraham_Lincoln_Ashland_OR
I apologize if any errors or incomprehensibilities in the text exist; I did not take my usual time at editing, so now you get a glimpse into how wacky I actually write in rough draft! 🙂 Thank you for keeping with me this far!