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Vandals damage Iron Mike statue, steal its rifle

The Iron Mike statue that appears to be scanning for game across the Ashland Plaza has been stripped of his firearm.

Iron Mike, also known as Pioneer Mike, stands atop the Carter Memorial Fountain in the Plaza. The statue was erected in 1910 to honor the generation of early pioneers who were passing away during that time. It was given to the city by Henry and Harriet Carter, who founded the Bank of Ashland in the 1880s. 

In addition to the missing rifle, the fountain's name plate was damaged. The vandalism is estimated to have occurred some time in the 48 hours before it was reported Thursday morning. Diana Shiplet, executive assistant for the city's Administration Department, said Friday that the piece had been recovered late Friday morning from one of the planter boxes in front of Martolli's Pizza. 

The Ashland Police Department has the piece as part of its investigation. Once the investigation is complete, the Public Works Department will determine its options for repairing the statue.

This is the second time Iron Mike's gun has been broken off in the past 15 years, says Sharlene Stephens, the city's risk management specialist. One person in costume climbed up onto the statue on Halloween night in 2001, breaking the gun. The piece was reattached at Ashland Forge in April of 2002 for $6,500, and the statue was returned to the Plaza in June of that year. 

A review of reports in the Daily Tidings also show two other incidents involving Iron Mike in the past 10 years. Citations were issued to seven people in 2006 for climbing Iron Mike and, in 2008, a man climbed the statue and burned an American flag to protest the Iraq War. Mike was discolored by the burning flag, and the man was arrested. 

Iron Mike was also in the news in August 2013 when sparks flew out of him, raining down on a man drinking from the nearby water fountain. Electricity from a faulty underground cable on Water Street had traveled to the statue, causing sparks to fly out of the top.

The man suffered no injuries, but the damaged cable left the downtown business district in Ashland without power for four hours. Iron Mike was unfazed by the electrical episode. 

Dennis DeBey, owner of the Ashland Forge, who repaired the statue after the 2001 incident, said that while he'd be happy to do it again if the city called, it's a risky repair to take on. 

"Mike isn't made out of iron, but actually pot metal, which is an alloy of lead and zinc," DeBey says. "It's pretty difficult to repair. I had a guy working here at the forge back then that taught me last time, but it's a pretty big project." 

Pot metal is a slang term for cheap metal alloys that commonly use some combination of lead, zinc, copper or tin. Such alloys are fairly soft and have a low melting point. Such metals sometimes have pores that can lead to deformities over time. Pot metal has an advantage of rapid, easy casting for statues.

The historic fountain is part of a list of items contributing to the inclusion of the Ashland Downtown Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The statue's defacing was one of several vandalism and thefts reported Thursday. The 500 through 800 blocks of Clay Street off Siskiyou Boulevard and the 2700 and 2800 blocks of Diane Street had reports of spray-paint graffiti on multiple vehicles. There also were reports of thefts from cars on those same blocks of Clay Street and the 300 block of Harrison Street. 

While he says it's not a big leap to connect the thefts to the spray-painted cars, Deputy Chief Tighe O'Meara says that those incidents are most likely not connected to the Iron Mike vandalism. 

"We're probably looking at two separate incidents," he says. "With the vandalized vehicles, it's probably a person painting one car, then another and continuing down the street. So while you've got multiple victims, it's probably the same culprit." 

O'Meara says that the investigation is still in its early stages and there are no further leads at this time. 

Any one with information about the vandalism should contact Ashland police at 541-488-2211 or 541-482-5211. 

Email reporter Ian Hand at ihand@dailytidings.com or call him at 253-722-4071. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IanHand_DT.