July 15, 2014 10:30:44 AM
In his Sunday column ("The accidental Klansman," July 13, 2014), Slim Smith writes about the strange phenomenon of people seeing the likeness of a Ku Klux Klansman in the statue atop the Confederate monument on the Lowndes County Court House lawn.
Despite serious doubts expressed by his sources, Smith flatly states that this likeness is in fact there in the statue: "The question that lingers is this: Was the likeness of the Klansman an unfortunate accident? Or did the sculptor add the image as a subliminal message, as if to say though the Confederacy may have been lost, the idea of white supremacy has endured?" That is, per Smith, the likeness is physically there and there are only two possible explanations for it.
He goes on to tell us that the monument was erected in 1912 under the auspices of the Stephen D. Lee Chapter No. 34 of the UDC and constructed by Columbus Marble Works. Smith says the sculptor is unknown but adds, "that is not to say that someone at Columbus Marble Works could not have been the sculptor, however."
There are two problems with these assertions. The first is that there is no physical likeness of a Klansman worked into that statue. What is going on here is a phenomenon well known to science, that humans have an evolved tendency to see pattern in things, to see elephants in cloud formations or in a series of random throws of dice. Furthermore, the patterns are appropriate to time and place. Where people in Columbus today would see the Klansman, in the 13th Century they might see the likeness of a cowled monk or friar. The likeness only exists in the mind, not in reality.
The second problem is the charge that this unknown sculptor might have been employed by Columbus Marble Works.
After about three minutes googling, I found myself on a page of a website of the Smithsonian Institution (siri.artinventories.si.edu). Turns out that our monument is Control No. MS000027 in the Smithsonian's Art Inventories Catalog, and on this page it is described at length, including several photographs.
From the description: "The figure atop the dome holds a partially furled flag in both hands as the flag blows around him." No hint of a Klansman.
About the construction, the catalog tells us that "Columbus Marble Works made the monument under the supervision of T. A. McGahey. The soldiers were imported from Italy."
So if there is in fact an image of a Klansman carved into this statue, we are left with one of two suspects or with both acting collaboratively: T. A. McGahey and the 1912 members of UDC Chapter 34. Anyone who believes that needs to stick his head in a bucket of ice water.
A final note in closing. Among the references cited by the Smithsonian are two articles in The Commercial Dispatch, one dated Aug. 11, 1912, and the other dated Jan. 14, 1979.
1. Ask Rufus: Columbus in 1822 LOCAL COLUMNS
2. Our View: A call for help is not an admission of failure DISPATCH EDITORIALS
4. Marc Dion: Coat and tie required NATIONAL COLUMNS
5. Voice of the people: Robert Smith LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (VOICE@CDISPATCH.COM)