fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Has the statue of Abraham Lincoln always had such bad luck?

The 5-foot-tall statue of Abraham Lincoln is famous across the state for the indignities it has suffered as a resident of Ashland's Lithia Park.

Originally fashioned out of marble at a studio in Florence, Italy, the statue has lost its head four times since Jackson County native Gwin S. Butler dedicated it in memory of his stepfather, pioneer Jacob Thompson, in 1916.

The statue was originally placed in a sycamore grove on the hill near the Butler-Perozzi fountain, donated by Butler and businessman D. Perozzi.

It's unclear whether the Lincoln statue's first decapitation was intentional or the result of vandals toppling it over on Nov. 4, 1958.

In December 1958, Doyle M. Benson, 18, of Ashland, was fined and sentenced to jail for 30 days for his role in the vandalism, according to a Dec. 18, 1958, Mail Tribune article.

In late summer or early fall 1967, vandals tore the head off the statue again.

Weary of paying to repair damages caused by vandalism to the statue, the Ashland Parks Commission decided on Nov. 7, 1967, to store it away.

Two months later, the Ashland Daily Tidings published a photo of the statue lying in the weeds near the sewer treatment plant.

"After that people started complaining about what they did with Lincoln," said longtime Ashland resident Hamid Ghavam.

In response to the public outcry over the Lincoln statue's humiliation, the city called on the art department at Southern Oregon College (now Southern Oregon University) to restore the statue to its former glory.

Ghavam, then an art student, volunteered to repair the statue and chipped off a gallon of blue paint, completing his work in March 1968.

"It was like brand new," Ghavam recalled.

It's unclear when the statue was moved to the front of the park next to the plaza and the staircase up to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Ghavam said the statue was relocated to the high-traffic spot after he restored it in 1968.

Former City Administrator Brian Almquist said it didn't take its place at the front of the park until a later restoration in 1991 by local artist Jeffrey Bernard.

In recent years, some newspaper reports erroneously stated that the statue had been moved previously to the front of the park, probably sometime in the 1950s.

Vandals decapitated the statue again in 1973, and stole the head. A man walking through the park reported to police that the head was missing on March 17, 1973, according to a Mail Tribune article published two days later.

C.M. Litwiller, an Ashland businessman, offered a $25 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who took the statue's head, the article stated.

It's unclear what happened to the statue after the 1973 vandalism, but at some point, city officials decided to bury it in a bank behind the Butler band shell, Almquist said.

A public art renaissance in Ashland, spearheaded by former Ashland Planning Director John Fregonese, led to the exhumation of the statue in 1988.

City officials hired Bernard to restore it again. Bernard relied on photos to painstakingly chisel the statue's missing parts.

It was unveiled on Lincoln's birthday in 1991 at the entrance of the park near the plaza.

The statue's most recent beheading happened in August 2005. The picture of the headless statue consumed the front pages of newspapers across the state, including The Oregonian.

The statue stood headless until February, when the city fastened on a new head, paid for by anonymous donors and crafted in China.

For every indignity, "it becomes more and more entrenched in the town history," Bernard said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen by calling 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

The headless Lithia Park statue of Abraham Lincoln in 2005. MT File Photo