Monday, March 21, 2011

Vandalism and Rumors of Vandalism

My educational background is in political science. I have been trained when I write to be careful to present only facts, or at least what can be presented as facts. It was politics after all. So as an historian, amateur or otherwise, I am hesitant to report rumors as they can be misinterpreted as fact. Not that I think that my readers are too unsophisticated to distinguish fact from rumor, but that I will unconsciously assert that what I am saying is true, even if the evidence is not complete.

But, in my personal research, I have found that rumors, far from being misleading, can be enlightening. Much of what happened to Mormons in the post Civil War South, was fed by rumor. If I wanted to understand why Mormons were treated the way they were, ignoring rumors would be like seeing a movie with half the screen blocked. So I listen to rumors, and sometimes I pass them along.

So rumor has it that the missing historical marker for the Cane Creek massacre has been found. A tip led a Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) crew, to a bridge crossing the Buffalo River about six miles south of the city of Hohenwald. The sign’s original location was about 13 miles north of where it was found. It had been thrown into the river from the bridge. The TDOT crew waded out into the river and retrieved the sign. But the sign has not yet made it back into the hands of the Historical Commission, and I have not been able to get confirmation that the sign has indeed been found.

A representative for the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) believes that because of how the sign was broken off, it is probably not repairable. It was made from cast aluminum (not iron as I once thought) at a foundry in Ohio - Sewah Studios. Although there are processes for reattaching the broken off piece of the sign to its base, I am told by friends accustomed to working with aluminum that such a repair would be difficult, and the results may not be satisfactory. In addition it might not be cheaper than replacing the sign altogether. And even if it is less expensive and a local foundry could be found to perform the work, there is still no money in this years’ THC budget for the repair.

So to make a long story short, even if the sign has been found, it still will have to be replaced.

I also find the speculation about the culprits and their motivation fascinating. Before it was found some wondered if it someone would try to sell it for scrap metal, an option I had not considered, mostly because the sign would have been easily identified. Other suggestions were more in the line of what I was thinking; someone didn't like what the sign said. To be fair, I've never run into anyone who thought the sign should disappear; only people who thought others might want to help it do so.

But it was who people thought might do such a thing the fascinated me most. Suggestions to their identity were as varied as juveniles with rich parents and too much time on their hands, to relatives of those who ran the Mormons off 125 years ago, to members of the TDOT crew that found the sign. I find little value in such speculation. Except in that it tells us a little bit about the speculator. I certainly don’t believe members of the TDOT crew that retrieved the sign had anything to do with it. But the person who suggested the possibility was a longtime LDS resident whose family has experienced more than their share of anti-Mormon bias. So it might be a little paranoid, but perhaps understandably so. In the massacre that the sign describes, some people in the mob were the very ones who should have been protecting them; among them a deputy sheriff, and a prominent local physician.

While several signs have been vandalized in the area, and the culprits’ motivations are not really known, it probably doesn’t matter. In a county with about twelve thousand residents, it takes just a handful to perpetuate this kind of damage. Despite what happened more than 125 years ago, Lewis County is a great place to live. And stealing a sign doesn't compare to some of the things being done to Mormons and Mormon structures elsewhere, even today. But that is the subject for another day.

4 comments:

Ardis E. Parshall said...

I hope you're recording in your private papers a far more detailed record of the rumors and suspicions than would be appropriate for public posting. When enough time has passed, a record like that could be an interesting part of the history that is not often recoverable by a historian.

Assuming that the marker *was* found as rumored, and regardless of whoever did it and why, two conclusions seem valid to me: It wasn't casual vandalism (because, as your earlier pictures show, it took serious effort and wasn't just a couple of high school boys playing around with a hacksaw who accidentally went farther than they intended) and the vandal(s) didn't want the marker repaired (because it was taken so far away rather than being dumped where it would be likely found). Ugh.

Amy said...

Wow. Sounds like the makings of a thriller/mystery story.... you have a murder, vandalism, long-term rumors and information and misinformation being passed down from generation to generation and you, the trusty detective. What an adventure!

BruceCrow said...

Along with the rumors I have some names I'm just not willing to share for the reasons you describe: not approriate for public consumption.

I have struggled with exactly how to preserve the bits and pieces I run across that are a little too sensitive. Recently I have been including them in footnotes on my private copy of the posts I write. If you have a better idea, I'm all ears.

I agree with your conclusions. I don't think I could have described them as clearly as you have.

BruceCrow said...

You make it sound exotic, Amy. I hope I don't have the same problem the first detective had on this case. About a month after the Massacre a detective from Indiana went looking for the $1,000 reward the state offered for identity of the vigilantes. He found them when he was alone in the woods. They promptly put a noose around his neck. And came close to putting an end to his search. But decided to let him go to serve as a warning against others who might follow.