Hiatus Update: Indiana’s Historic Courthouse Statues, along with some others

The 1918 Murphy Memorial Drinking Fountain at the southwestern corner of the Carroll County, Indiana courthouse. The bronze statue of the girl and her chalice was created by artist Myra Reynolds Richards.

I’m finally figuring out my schedule, its benefits, and its limitations, realizing that I’ve got to work to prioritize the creative outlets that are important me, and that that’s just what adults(!) must do. It’s not like this is a foreign concept, but twelve-hour days on a shifting weekly schedule represent the first time I’ve really struggled in that way. My life has gone through many changes over the past year and a half or so!

Statues, so long as they’re not Confederate ones, rarely change. I like historic works of public art. Indiana’s county seats are full of it and many statues grace, or have graced, the lawns of our courthouses. Today, in paraphrasing celebration of the tag line at the top of this blog, I’ll show some “photos of Indiana’s Historic Courthouse Statues, along with some others.”

Here’s the Doughboy of Spencer, Owen County, Indiana- the sculptor’s hometown.

We can start with E.M. Visquesney’s The Spirit of the American Doughboy, which honors those who died during World War I. It does not take a brainiac to realize that, in profile, Visquesney probably copied the stance of the Statue of Liberty in sculpting this piece, in which a young soldier holds a hand grenade aloft in his right hand along with a rifle close to his leftern1 flank.

They were mass-produced -made variously of cast zinc, sheet bronze, and stone2,- so a ton of them exist. Indiana, Visquesney’s home state, has eleven full-sized versions of the gutsy fellow. The son of a French stone mason3, Visquesney originally hailed from Spencer. Here’s that city’s copy of his work, which stands in front of the courthouse there:

Blackford County’s “Spirit of the American Doughboy” statue on the courthouse grounds.

Happily oblivious to the concept of “context” during most of my courthouse trips, I did not bother to seek out many statues to depict since I wanted to focus on the buildings themselves. Here’s the doughboy outside of the Blackford County Courthouse. I’m glad he made a cameo that day.

“The Light of the World,” Bloomington, Indiana.

Other counties have their own unique statues that stand at the ready to guard their courthouses. Take this fearsome matron judging me from the higher reaches of the Monroe County Courthouse in Bloomington, for example. I assumed that she was irritated with me for wiping the leg of my trousers with Sweet Onion sauce after the Elletsville Subway didn’t give me any napkins. In actuality, the figure was created by the Hungarian sculptor Albert Molnar and is known as “The Light of the World.” Surrounded by characters that personify law and power, the central likeness holds an allegorical torch of enlightenment above her head4, though I would have found a monumental Tide Pen more useful in the moment.

The statue depicting Demeter, from the demolished Marion County Courthouse, is difficult to find in Crown Hill Cemetery. Following the painted yellow line won’t help you here!

The demolished Marion County Courthouse in Indianapolis had some phenomenal statues. IIf you’ve ever ascended the crown of Crown Hill Cemetery to James Whitcomb Riley’s grave, you’d have gone right by two of them. The first stands just beyond the 38th Street underpass, and it represents either Persephone or Hebe. The second is a statue of Themis, just below Riley’s grave. The final statue, placed in section 46-B of the cemetery, represents Demeter. Two more statues from the old courthouse overlook the ruins at Holliday Park. 

If I ever said I knew which goddess this statue was intended to depict, I’d have been lying. I have no clue!

The ruins -a phenomenal installation itself- was once home to two more courthouse statues until age and vandalism took their toll5 while one final goddess wound up in the personal collection of a California art dealer. In the photo below, courtesy of The Indiana Album’s Nancy (Hendricks) VanArendonk collection, you can see six of the eight standing in front of the old courthouse after being removed from its parapet.  It looks like they’re taking a quick smoke break, and I’d have loved to join them! The scene reminds me of the cover of Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell, the first album I ever bought with my own money.

Presented without caption.

My home county of Delaware has some statues of our own that grace our 1969 courthouse. They are this horrifying native American and “his girlfriends6,” goddesses that represent agriculture and industry. The Indian -carved, as far as we know, by the Irish sculptor John A. Ward- measured 10-12 feet tall and once held court over the old building’s eastern entrance. Upon its removal from the old courthouse in 1966, a passerby remarked that he should have been placed near the new treasurer’s office since he “look[ed[ so mean that no one would fail to pay his taxes7”.

After several moves, these statues from the 1887 courthouse were finally reinstalled along the southwestern corner of its 1969 successor.

While the Indian is ugly, I’m sure that his grim visage is due more to the angle we were originally intended to view from from -sixty feet below his perch- than through the Victorian perpetuation of some stereotypical caricature. After all, I don’t know of any courthouse that features a disparaging cartoon above its main entryway. That’s not to say we can’t have a bit of fun with some cartoonish statuary, though. Businesses that feature larger-than-life, humorous characters were once common around East Central Indiana! Take Burger Man. Whereas now he lives in Shirley, he hails from Muncie, Queen City of the Gas Belt:

A 1966 Richard Kishel Burger Man statue. Today he stands forlornly outside of the Liquor Depot in Shirley, Indiana.

Burger Man is part of the lineage of a local restaurant founded 1961 called Mr. Fifteen. At one point, five of them existed in Muncie, Anderson, and Greenville, Ohio. On the day that the price of a hamburger rose above fifteen cents, the chain rebranded around the Burger Man character. Somehow this statue made it into rural Hancock County. I’d love to find Muncie’s pair of wayward Burger Men. 

We have former Ball State professor Dick Kishel to thank for Burger Man. Though he originally dabbled in designing unique playground equipment in 1959, he soon turned to designing these turtles. Ubiquitous around here and perhaps where you live, the turtles were made of steel-reinforced concrete through the use of a fiberglass mold. They stand about four feet tall and weigh 3,100 pounds8

It seems like nearly every playground I visited as a child had one of Art Forms’ turtles. This one is in Muncie’s West Side Park.

That’s a sizable terrapin! But Kishel’s creations only got larger: In 1965, his company, Art Forms, built this 28-foot-tall Paul Bunyan for the Kirby-Wood Lumber Company. Made of a steel skeleton sprayed with urethane foam that was carved into shape and covered with fiberglass, the statue was moved to its current location outside of Timbers bar and grill in 1993, five years after the lumber yard burned down. This was no easy task, as structural steel pipes running through the lumberjack’s legs were anchored into a concrete base to support its estimated 5,000 pound weight9.

Art Forms’ Paul Bunyan is still impressive today. His outfit changes seasonally.

Among Kishel’s other creations were the giant ice cream men at the Ice House Tavern in New Castle and the closed Tin Lizzy restaurant near Montpelier that was featured in the opening credits of the show Parks & Recreation. His best-known works, though, ornamented the original Washington Park Zoo in Indianapolis. Willie the Whale -a 22-foot-long walk-through whale with an aquarium inside- was a main attraction of the place. Contrary to common belief, Kishel was not behind the “Big Jack” muffler man statue outside of Muncie at I-69 and 332 (those were all made by International Fiberglass of California).

Here’s Kishel’s ice cream man outside of Montpelier. It, along with its cousin in New Castle, seem to be variants of an Uncle Sam mold.

In 1972, Art Forms evolved into Arrowhead Plastic Engineering, Incorporated, and by 1977, the company moved to the 35,000 square foot former Eugene Field elementary school in Muncie. Today, Arrowhead operates as a provider of custom composite molding and thermoforming processes. As late as 1999, they were turning out 60 (fiberglass) turtles a year for American Playground Company10, and they’re still available from that organization’s website in tangerine red and green. Richard Kishel himself died at eighty-six in 2010.

This statue of Neptune was donated to the city of Goshen by James Polezos, a Greek immigrant who owned a confectionary across from the courthouse, in 1912. It is based on an 1856 sculpture by Gabriel Vital-Dubray.

Outside of his kitschy creations, Kishel was a serious modern artist who sought to accomplish things and make statements through his sculptures and paintings much like Visquesney, Albert Molnar, or even the itinerant John A. Ward did. Although a portfolio of higher-level pieces still exists to inspire many, its Kishel’s accessible pieces -many now paradoxically off the beaten path- that still inspire people like me. I like statues such as those around our old courthouses, but give me a Burger Man, a Bunyan, or a turtle any day instead- I’ll connect with them more than I will from any judge allegorical figure. Is that an allegorical sentiment in and of itself? Did I inadvertently capture some banal millennial zeitgeist? I don’t know. But what I do know is that Burger Man would look great on the courthouse lawn here in Muncie. Or in my front yard!

1 I made up this word.
2 Greiff, Glory-June. “Remebrance, Faith, and Fancy: Outdoor Public Sculpture in Indiana”. Indiana Historical Society Press [Indianapolis]. 2005. Print.
3 Cavinder, Fred. “Forgotten Hoosiers: Profiles from Indiana’s Hidden History” The History Press [Charleston]. 2009. Print.
4 “A Walk through the Monroe County Courthouse” City of Bloomington and Monroe County Convention and Visitors Bureau [Bloomington]. 2009. Print.
5 “History of the Ruins” Friends of Holliday Park. Web. Retrieved 4/3/21.
6 “Old Courthouse Bell, Three Statues Eyed for Return to Plaza” The Muncie Star [Muncie]. February 28, 1982. 4. Print.
7 “Courthouse Demolition Underway” The Muncie Star [Muncie]. December 22, 1966. 2. Print.

8 “Where Giants Are Born” The Indianapolis Star [Indianapolis]. May 1, 1966. 28. Print.
9 Penticuff, David. “Timber! The big guy’s getting new digs” The Muncie Evening Press [Muncie]. July 24, 1993. 1. Print.
10 Millard, Nancy. “The Mighty Kishels” The Star Press [Muncie]. January 17, 1999. 31. Print.

One thought on “Hiatus Update: Indiana’s Historic Courthouse Statues, along with some others

  1. It seems appropriate to have statues outside of a courthouse to balance out all of the statutes inside.

    I had never heard of Mr 15, and assumed at first that those guys had worn tartan plaid and had stood guard at early Mac’s Hamburgers.


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