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Jack Smith

Is the Southland losing its marbles? . . . With our statues disappearing, it certainly seems so

September 09, 1986|Jack Smith

My story about the missing bronze statue of Max Whittier has raised inquiries about two or three other missing works of art.

Max Whittier, you may recall, came here as a youth from a Maine potato farm with $25, brought in the Kern County oil fields, developed Beverly Hills and scattered millions as a philanthropist.

In 1929, four years after his death, a bronze statue of Whittier was dedicated in Exposition Park, where the museum of Science and Industry now stands.

Where is the statue today? No one knows.

The sculptor was David Edstrom, famous in both Europe and America for the force and simplicity of his work. He was a great-uncle of Carver E. Hildebrand of Arcadia, who writes that Edstrom also sculpted the bust of Harry Chandler that stands in The Times lobby and the graceful figure of Florence Nightingale that stands unsullied in Lincoln Park.

But Edstrom also did a sphinx that is missing. Hildebrand encloses a picture. She is sleek, exotic, mysterious and female. She was carved in black and red granite and was given to the Dickson Art Center at UCLA.

No one knows where she is today.

Hildebrand comments: "It is hard to believe that a statue as large as that of Max Whittier could simply disappear. Because of the wide circulation of the L.A. Times, I am confident that your article will be read by someone who knows the fate of the statue. And if this proves to be the case, perhaps I can get you to help me locate the missing sphinx. It is even more likely that this statue still exists than it is that the Max Whittier statue does, since a piece of granite can't be melted down. . . ."

Meanwhile, Shirli L. Shaw of Altadena writes that a portrait of her great-grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Lawrence Merritt, is missing from the Pasadena Library.

As the missing statue did for Whittier, the missing portrait mainly serves to remind us of this sterling woman's life.

Sarah Elizabeth Lawrence Merritt was a granddaughter of David Lawrence, one of Paul Revere's Minutemen. Her husband, Cpl. Fanning Tracy Merritt of the Union Army, was killed at Spotsylvania, leaving her with three boys. One of them was Mrs. Shaw's grandfather.

Sarah was graduated from Emerson College in Massachusetts and came to Pasadena with many books. She lent some to Amos G. Throop, whom she persuaded to start a small school (Caltech), and to Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, the Civil War balloonist and builder of the Echo Mountain railway. She was Pasadena's first librarian, and installed its first street light--a pole with a lamp on top to light her library at night.

For years, Mrs. Shaw says, her portrait hung over the front desk of the main library. Then it was moved to the Pintoresca branch. Then, like Max Whittier's statue, it disappeared.

"As it is," says Mrs. Shaw, "she has received too little recognition for her achievements, and, it seems to me, at least, her portrait could, if found, be replaced to the spot where it belongs."

I am reminded by two colleagues of a missing statue that is much less important historically, but certainly as baffling a mystery.

Both Gene Blake, retired Times writer who was an expert in legal stories, and William S. Murphy, Times photographer, writer and historian, have written of a notorious missing statue that was to have been planted in my yard some years ago.

As the two of them recall it, I was the guest of honor at a party at which I was presented with a small papier-mache statue that turned out to be merely a decoy.

As Murphy recalls this historic event, Jim Cardwell, public relations director for Forest Lawn, had paid two Forest Lawn workmen to plant a surplus Forest Lawn marble statue in my yard while the party was in progress.

"What it was I don't know," he says. "David, Goliath, Adam--perhaps Eve. But it was supposed to be of a good size and fashioned in marble or concrete."

Both Murphy and Blake remember that Cardwell paid the workmen in advance and gave them a fifth of whiskey.

"When the party broke up," Blake recalls, "everyone repaired furtively to Mt. Washington (where I live), prepared to relish the Smiths' reaction. But, alas, there was no statue." Blake reports that Cardwell later checked with the workmen and they assured him that they had indeed placed the statue in concrete--in someone's backyard. But evidently they had consumed the booze in advance, and couldn't remember where they had planted it.

I remember being told of this misadventure when we got home that night and found our friends gathered at the house to witness our surprise.

"Of course," Blake reflects, "it's possible that Cardwell was pulling everyone's leg. The last I heard, he had retired, moved to Northern California and was writing a book on his experiences at Forest Lawn, to be entitled 'I Had Ten Thousand People Under Me.' "

Murphy also recalls that Cardwell was a bit of a joker. He told everyone that he never stayed at Forest Lawn after dark because he was afraid of ghosts.

So the whereabouts of that statue is a mystery to this day. I myself have no doubt that Cardwell had arranged to have it put in my backyard, knowing that I always wanted a heroic statue.

I believe it is in somebody else's backyard. If so, it belongs to me, and they should give it back.

I hope it's Eve.

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