A few days ago I caught up with an old friend.
Actually, we had never really met, but I felt like I knew her as well as any of my usual friends or family. She is not among the living, but continues to quietly greet passers-by at her residence - Ashland Cemetery in Carlisle, Pa. She has a name - she's actually had several in her time - and I will call her by her first name, ''Silence.'' At least that's her first known name. She's changed her name and her residence several times. That's mainly why I've been unable to meet her until now. She's always managed to stay a few steps ahead of me, which is rather remarkable, seeing as she's made of granite, and I can still run pretty well.
Silence was probably born in a quarry somewhere in the eastern United States. She may have taken shape in France, but her ancestry is still a bit uncertain. Women are frequently a little hesitant to reveal their exact age, but she likely began her career at Lake View Cemetery in the early 1880s. Alexander Prendergast, son of Jamestown's founder James Prendergast Sr., purchased a large lot in Lake View in 1880, when his son, also named James (and often referred to as James the Younger) died on Dec. 21, 1879, at age 31 in Buffalo and was brought to Lake View for burial. James Sr. and his wife, Agnes (aka ''Aunt Nancy'') (Thompson), Prendergast had been buried many years prior to this in a small cemetery in the nearby town of Chautauqua. Alexander and his wife Mary (Norton) Prendergast were the ones who likely obtained Silence to watch over their beloved son.
Sam Genco, right, assistant superintendent of Lake View Cemetery, recently tracked down ‘‘Silence,’’ a statue that originally stood in the cemetery in the early 1880s in the Prendergast family lot. Genco had been searching for the statue for years and eventually found it in Ashland Cemetery in Carlisle, Pa. Standing with Genco and Silence is Steve Ewing of Ewing Funeral Home in Carlisle, who helped put together the final pieces of the puzzle.
At this point I should tell you that Silence may have had a twin sister, but her whereabouts, and even her existence, is unknown. Silence is, well, silent on the issue. A newspaper article from 1928 mentions her twin, but no one now living has ever found a trace of her. She was rumored to be guarding a cemetery in Ripley, but the old-timers there have never heard of her.
Silence's sojourn in Lake View Cemetery was a short one, at least in statue years. She departed shortly before a new, much larger monument was installed on the Prendergast lot, likely sometime before Mary's burial on Dec. 26, 1889, which also happens to be the 10th anniversary of James the Younger's burial. By that time, the remains of James Sr. and Aunt Nancy had been moved to Lake View, along with Nancy's parents - Alexander and Mary Thompson.
Silence moved on from Lake View Cemetery to the grounds of the James Prendergast Free Library. The library was formed by Alex and Mary Prendergast to honor the memory of young James, who had mentioned his desire to start a public library in papers found after his death. A prominent location and substantial structure were envisioned, but it took more than 10 years to bring to fruition. After much consideration, it was decided to locate it in an unlikely, but fitting spot - the old burying grounds bounded by Fifth, Washington, Sixth, and Cherry streets - land once deeded to the Congregational Church by James Prendergast Sr. himself. An effort was made to remove as many of the remains as possible, but by my count only roughly one-third of them actually made the trip to Lake View Cemetery. The remainder were likely never moved, so Silence's duties remained essentially the same.
Sam Genco is Lake View Cemetery assistant superintendent and a Fenton History Center trustee. He can be contacted at 665-3206 or by email at email@example.com.
The library was dedicated in 1891, and Silence was probably already there by that time. Legions of children played on and around her by day, and courting couples braved her unblinking gaze at night. For nearly 30 years she watched over the library grounds, until 1928, when she was unceremoniously carted off to the Peterson Monument Works in downtown Jamestown. It's speculated that she was moved to make room for expansion of the library. The aforementioned newspaper article from 1928 stated that she would be given a ''marcel and manicure'' before heading to an unknown destination.
It's not known exactly how long she took to get herself spruced up, but she probably left town that winter. She took a sleigh ride across the state line to Wrightsville, Pa., in nearby Warren County, and assumed a prominent place in the formal garden of one Albert C. Westren. Mr. Westren's full life and unique possessions would make a fascinating story - one I may tackle at some point in the near future. Suffice it to say that Silence probably was a good fit there, even if it was in a somewhat out-of-the-way place. Mr. Westren gave her the pseudonym, ''Deep Thinkin'.'' He died May 12, 1963, and his multitudinous possessions - statues, sculptures, wrought-iron masterpieces, horseshoe collection, grandiose homemade chandeliers - many of these items created by his own hands, were all sold or auctioned off, probably around the time of his wife's death in 1970. Silence was one of the many prizes spirited away, after more than 40 years of graceful solitude amongst the rare flora Mr. Westren cultivated in his backyard.
A local antique dealer named John McCoan of nearby Clarendon, Pa., moved our heroine to his place of business, and offered her for sale to gawking visitors for several thousand dollars. She was there referred to as ''Woman Meditating.'' But she didn't have time to meditate long, as she was loaded up onto a truck less than a year later, and taken on a tour of central Pennsylvania. Her sightseeing ended at Williamsport, Pa., in front of Roan's Auction Barn. Unfortunately, her discreet ways had shorn her of all her fascinating history. She was now just an old statue up for sale nearly 200 miles from home.
One day in 1972, a well-to-do gentleman in an expensive car drove up to Roan's shop, and inquired about the quiet beauty out front. After brief negotiations, he drove away, having purchased our now-unnamed lady. Shortly afterward, she was delivered to Ashland Cemetery in Carlisle, Pa., about 100 miles south of Williamsport, where she has rested to this day. After receiving notice of her whereabouts, I paid her a brief visit on Dec. 10, 2011. She was her usual quiet self, but posed beautifully for the camera.
THE SEARCH FOR 'SILENCE'
I love mysteries. I have tried to solve a number of them in my lifetime. Most remain just that - a mystery. The day-to-day business of earning a living intrudes, or the trail just gets too old and too cold to trace. Sometimes I simply lack focus, and chase too many things at once. I have looked for, and found, long-lost shipwrecks, gravesites, people, homesteads, railroads, news articles and more. But the finds, by far, comprise a much shorter list than the searches. So it's always a cause for celebration when a search is successful. Especially when the odds of success seem long. I always felt confident I'd find Silence, but without good reason. I just felt she couldn't be too far away. After all, how far could several tons of granite go? Turns out, farther than I thought.
I do a lot of historical research in my job at Lake View Cemetery. Although the day-to-day operation of the cemetery is my primary focus, I feel it is my responsibility to learn, save and share as much as I can about the history of the people buried here. So much of that history can be permanently lost when people don't take the time to preserve it. And we as a people are the less for it. Every family and town deserve to have their stories told and passed on. I collect these fragments of history to the best of my ability, as do many others. We try to help each other, knowing that these connections can sometimes bear fruit in unexpected ways - like finding lost statues.
One day several years ago I purchased an old postcard of a beautiful statue resting on the Prendergast Library grounds. I was intrigued by it because I thought it represented a monument to the unnamed people who were buried there, but got left behind when the library was built. I knew the statue was no longer on the library grounds, and wondered where it went. Eventually I found (or was given, I can't now remember which) a newspaper article (the 1928 article mentioned above) that told of its removal to the Peterson Monument Works. I couldn't help but wonder where it went from there. At about the same time, I was also looking for a large monument to World War I Jamestown soldiers that once sat outside the Fenton History Center. (I'm still looking for that one.) One day I was discussing the missing items with the Fenton staff, when one of its volunteers, Don Lauger, said, ''I've seen that statue. It was at Al Westren's house in Wrightsville years ago.'' By a wonderful coincidence, Mr. Lauger happened to live just outside that tiny village. He filled me in on what he knew about Mr. Westren, and off I went in search of everything I could learn about him.
Mr. Westren nearly got me completely sidetracked by his colorful history, but I did find a gentleman who confirmed that he had helped sell Mr. Westren's possessions, including Silence. He stated that there was no way I'd find the statue, or most anything else, because they were scattered far and wide after his death. And for a couple of years, it seemed that way, for there was nothing to point me in any particular direction. Then a great lead turned up. (Remember those ''connections'' I mentioned?) Norman Carlson at the Fenton found a brief mention of the statue in an old edition of ''Stepping Stones,'' a periodical of the Warren County Historical Society. It stated that the statue went to antique dealer John McCoan of nearby Clarendon, Pa., who shortly thereafter shipped it to an auction barn in Williamsport, Pa. I hunted down acquaintances of Mr. McCoan, who had since died. They didn't have much to add, and didn't know where in Williamsport the statue went.
I called an old, established auction house in Williamsport, but other than offering to keep me in mind, they didn't leave me with anything to go on. Ann Thorpe, a good friend and willing partner in wild goose chases, encouraged me to write an article and place it in the newspaper there. After my usual procrastination, I finally got around to writing it. The Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal helped get it published in Williamsport. After a few days, I received a phone call from Donald Roan, formerly with Roan's Auctioneers in Williamsport. He told me he sold the statue years ago to a person whose name he couldn't remember. He said he'd check with an elderly gentleman who delivered it for him. After a few days, he called back with the news that the deliveryman couldn't remember where he took the statue, but he recalled that ''it was right near the road,'' and he thought it was in the York, Pa., area. York is about 110 miles south of Williamsport. Now I'm like a hound that's caught the scent.
The title of this article is ''Slender Threads Lead To Lost Statue.'' As you can already see, it took a confluence of several unlikely coincidences just to get this far. Just to add to the improbability of this story, I'll tell you something that Mr. Roan told me when I called him back recently to report that I'd found the statue. He said, ''You know, I don't even get the Williamsport newspaper anymore. I live a bit north of town now. I just happened to pick up a copy the day your article appeared, because I wanted to check on something else that was listed in the paper that day.''
Of course I now turned my full radar on York, Pa. The newspaper and a couple of local bloggers were very cooperative. They published my story and asked for the public's assistance in the search. A few ''silent'' days went by, until I received an email from a woman who said she thought she saw the statue in a cemetery in Carlisle, some 40 miles from York. She said she occasionally shopped at the Carlisle Mall, and that the statue was right across the road - York Road. She said the name of the cemetery was Ashland, and that this statue looked old and a little out of place where it sat. I couldn't find a website for Ashland Cemetery, although some scant information and an unhelpful video turned up online. I tried to think of someone to call who could email me a photo of the statue, but first I decided to try a website called Google Earth.
Google Earth is a wonderful mapping site that can show you detailed satellite images of nearly anyplace on Earth. Not only that, but it has a feature called ''Street View'' that allows you to take a virtual ''drive'' down selected roads as if you were a passenger in a convertible. You can look in any direction to catch the sights of the city. I decided to take a virtual stroll down York Road. After zooming in on the cemetery area, I hit the ''Street View'' button, and was instantly transported, like the crew of the ''Star Trek'' TV series, down to street level. Moving southeast along the road, I peered at the cemetery to my right, and could see monuments, trees, gates and, at the far end of the grounds, in an open area - oh my goodness, there she was! ''Right by the road,'' just like the old man said.
The detail was good, but not so good that I could be 100 percent positive. I tried to think of someone to call who could email me a detailed photo of the statue. First I looked up the number of the Office Max business that showed up clearly right across the street. I guess I was a little excited. A pleasant young lady there told me that the cemetery was private property and, no, she wouldn't go over there to photograph it for me. Then I looked up Carlisle funeral homes, and called one that was just down the road. They told me to call Steve Ewing at Ewing Funeral Home, the owners of the cemetery. In talking with Mr. Ewing, he stated that the statue was placed there in the early '70s. He remembered being there as a young man when it was unloaded and set in place. He also stated that Dr. Thomas Miller had purchased the statue shortly after his wife Elizabeth died in a car accident in 1971.
I agreed to meet Mr. Ewing at Ashland that weekend. A day or so after my conversation with him, I looked up the Carlisle newspaper website, and picked out a reporter's name from a list of about a dozen. When I emailed her, she said she was about to call me, because she had just been given the job of finding out my story. It seems the York newspaper had called the Carlisle newspaper because several of their readers had read my story, and stated that the statue was in Carlisle. A Carlisle news photographer was sent to the cemetery, and he emailed me a detailed photo that proved that Silence had indeed been found beyond the shadow of a doubt!
FACE TO FACE
As I turned the corner onto York Road my pulse quickened as Silence came into view. Wow! She was large - larger than I thought. She was larger than life-size, and made of white granite. Until I met her in person, I wasn't sure what type of stone she was made of. Her toes and fingers show some wear, but overall she is in excellent shape for her age and extensive travels. Granite is the best type of stone for resisting long-term wear. She sits relatively alone in a very open, under-developed area of the cemetery, dominating the scenery - much like she must have done at the library - and even at Lake View, which was still rather sparsely populated in the 1880s. Her upper base is now inscribed with the name ''Miller,'' and her lower base (which is of a darker granite) has the husband and wife's names and dates on it. Mr. Ewing will be sending me further information on the Millers soon. He told me Dr. Miller was something of a character, and well known in his day. For some reason, I'm not surprised.
I returned home with a feeling of great satisfaction, but not because I had solved a mystery. I can only take credit for a small part in solving the riddle of Silence. The lion's share of that credit goes to everyone who aided me with those vital little threads of information. And to each of you, whether you're named in this article or not, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You know who you are, and I only hope I can return the favor someday. The true satisfaction I feel is in giving back to Silence the history that she lost along her life's journey. It's the least I could do for an old friend.