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Answer Man: Honest, George and Abe may be buried by Soldiers Field

Could this be the final resting place of marble statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, which were gifts of the Mayo family more than 100 years ago? Answer Man sources say the damaged statues may have been dumped in a gully near Soldiers Field Park years ago and covered over.

I cannot tell a lie -— my column Tuesday was great, maybe the best of the week, until today.

As you know because you never miss my column, a reader asked whatever happened to the statue of George Washington that once graced a park in Rochester. I informed you that not only was the Father of Our Country immortalized in Mayo Park, so was the Great Emancipator. The Mayo family donated the pair of statues, which were dedicated in 1911.

That was just a year after the centennial of Lincoln's birth in 1809. Think about that for a moment. At the time those statues were raised, Old Abe had been dead less than 50 years, well within the living memory of many people in Rochester, including Dr. W.W. Mayo.

Anyway, the statues were in an area called Mayo Plaza, later called Statuary Park, and a few years later, a bronze statue of Doc Mayo (who died in 1911) joined the august crowd.

Well, time marches on, Mayo Park was gobbled up by the Civic Center, the Rochester Civic Theatre, the Rochester Art Center, the Rochester Public Library, etc., and the statues disappeared. In Tuesday's column, I noted that local historian Ted St. Manewrote in his Images of America book on Rochester that "not only is the statuary area gone, but also the statues themselves are unaccounted for."


I've heard gossip about the fate of those statues over the years but never went digging for the truth. Yesterday, I asked readers to help me out and of course several did.

John Kruesel, the go-to man for Rochester/Olmsted history, had this tip: "I have heard two stories -- one that they are buried in or near Soldiers Field Park to the west of the YMCA. I have also been told that they were moved to the island on the pond area to the west of Mayowood Dam, below Dr. Charlie's home."

The tale about the burial is one I've heard before, but I always thought it was a rumor along the lines of Jimmy Hoffabeing buried in the end zone at Giants Stadium . But a few other readers also checked in Tuesday afternoon.

Lorraine Keithcalled to say that a retired city employee told her the statues had been stored in a city garage for a while and were offered at some point to Washington and Lincoln elementary schools. Allegedly the schools didn't want them, so a city maintenance supervisor had them buried in a ravine adjacent to the Soldiers Field playground.

Bob Smith, who's 88 and recalls a lot about Rochester history, says he also heard the statues were buried in a gully between what's now the Rochester Family Y and the Soldiers Field golf course. Bob caddied at the golf course from 1939 until he left for service in World War II. "I think it's a possibility that they were thrown in a deep hole there and buried," he said.

Why were they thrown out? Bob said they were damaged; he heard that the noses had been broken off as a Halloween prank.

Maybe so. Then again, 90 percent of the ancient Greek and Roman statues that make Athens and Rome destination cities are missing their noses, not to mention arms, legs and heads.

Before last call on Tuesday night, Lee Hilgendorfrode to the rescue with more details. Lee pens the Post-Bulletin's Lens on History column and he's done research on Mayo Park, so he had the information at his fingertips.


"The Doctors Mayo were traveling in Italy and had the idea to have the statues carved there and then shipped to Rochester," Lee says. The statues were carved from fine Italian marble and would last hundreds of years," or so they thought.

The pair of presidents arrived in Rochester on Dec. 8, 1910, and were stored in the Chicago & North Western railroad warehouse until spring, when they were put on pedestals in what was then called Mayo Plaza, where the library is today. It must be said, judging by photos, the pedestal for Lincoln's statue was way too short. Maybe if both pedestals had been more appropriately scaled, the statues would have been less vulnerable to vandalism.

I won't steal too many more details from Lee, since he has a job to do, too. The melancholy fact is that the statues were pried off their pedestals and toppled by vandals in the late 1930s. Lee says Lincoln's arm and nose were broken off, and Washington's aquiline nose was chipped. They apparently went into city storage, were further damaged and then disappeared entirely.

Assuming they were unceremoniously dumped in a ditch and buried near Soldiers Field, I would call that scandalous. Not many years earlier , the Mayo brothers had been at Soldiers Field with a living president — FDR— for an event that attracted as many as 100,000 people.

I'll give Kruesel the final word on this for today, though if you have more information, please share:

"I find it so frustrating that these were public assets and there is no public record anywhere to let anyone know where they went. How can this be?"

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