SINCLAIRVILLE - A theft in this small village has gone unsolved for over 46 years. There are theories. Some people think they know what happened, but are unwilling to give specifics; some just don't want to talk about it at all.
Sometime on or after July 24, 1966, a person or persons stole a statue from the top of a granite pedestal located in Evergreen Cemetery. The theft was reported in the Friday, July 29, 1966, issue of the Jamestown Journal.
This account said the crime was reported to the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Department on July 28. That same day, the David Verne Luce Post 778 of the American Legion announced a $100 reward for the return of the statue and conviction of the persons responsible.
A replica of the statue of a Civil War infantryman is back where it belongs.
The post commander, Walter Brunson, was quoted as calling the theft "a most outrageous and disgraceful act."
The statue, described in the 1966 account as "the life-size replica of a Civil War infantryman and his gun," reportedly weighed 150 pounds, was made of bronze or copper and was a casting. The article also said the monument was erected "between 1890 and 1900 in memory of the 14 Town of Charlotte men who gave their lives in the battles during the war between the states." (Civil War)
While nothing was found in the Dunkirk paper near the time of the theft (July 28 to Aug. 3 1966), short accounts of the theft and the reward offered ran in papers in other parts of the state on Friday July 29, 1966. A small notice can be found in the Geneva, Lockport, and Niagara Falls, N.Y. newspapers.
This year on July 26, the statue was replaced. A copy of the statue, crafted by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, was secured to the base that once held the original by the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 1280.
This act was quiet, with no fanfare. Later, on Sept. 8, a public dedication was held in Evergreen Cemetery during the Valley Historical Society's annual History Fair. This gathering drew more attention, including the presence of Andrew Goodell, state Assemblyman.
Replacing the statue was no easy task. The treasurer of the Sinclairville Soldiers Monument Fund, a tax-exempt non-profit organization, spoke at the dedication.
"Hello everyone; my name is LouAnn Smith and on behalf of the Sinclairville Soldiers Monument Fund I would like to welcome you and thank you for attending this dedication, especially those who have supported this patriotic cause over the last six years. Our goal was to recreate this statue that was once part of Sinclairville's history and return it to Evergreen Cemetery where it had stood so proudly representing all of our veterans," she said.
She went on to thank the many veteran organizations, businesses, and private citizens who donated funds or time and effort to making the replacement of the statue possible. The invoice for the statue supplied by LouAnn showed that the cost, including shipping, totaled $22,500. The group sponsored fund drives of many kinds, including an effort during which her husband Diman's head was shaved for the 2009 bicentennial celebration of Sinclairville. That fund-raiser earned $1,000.
Diman, the president of the organization, didn't give a speech. Instead, because of intermittent rain, he quietly held an umbrella over the head of each speaker: his wife; Varsi Peterson, a member of the Charlotte Town Board; John Balardo, from the Cassadaga American Legion which also sent an honor guard; and Charles W. Sylvester.
Sylvester is a member of the Evergreen Cemetery Association and the Valley Historical Society but stressed he was not representing them. "I am speaking for myself," he said later that day.
Sylvester had done research for his speech. He found that the base for the statue was dedicated on May 30, 1891 but the statue was not dedicated until 1909. The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Colonel Jeremiah Clinton Drake Post 317 located in Sinclairville and the Women's Relief Corps (W.R.C.) were instrumental in erecting both the base and the statue.
He interjected a history lesson into his speech.
"The G.A.R. and the W.R.C. fought for benefits for soldiers injured in war and the establishment of the national holiday 'Decoration Day.' In 1868, Commander-in-Chief General John A. Logan established May 30 as Decoration Day, later known as Memorial Day," he said.
"It took a very dedicated group of people to raise the funds to put the statue back on its base and I would like to thank them for their fortitude and resilience to those who neither cared or were unwilling to recognize its importance. Whether the statue was taken as a prank or for money may it be known that they cannot dishonor the people that the monument was put up to honor." Sylvester concluded.
After the dedication Diman said privately, "I get very emotional about this. I grew up in Sinclairville. My dad is a purple-heart veteran who is buried next to where the statue stands. As a child, I looked up to the veterans. I thought replacing it was the right thing to do."
Diman also explained that a website was set up for the purpose of telling the story and soliciting contributions. The site shows research was needed to replace the statue.
"After lots of research and traveling, we have found a replica of the statue that once stood in our cemetery in North East, Pa." the site stated.
The group also found the statue was made by W.H. Mullins Co. in Salem, Ohio. The company is no longer in business, but the Historical Museum in Salem helped them get further information about the statue.
The website also led to contact with the sculptor Thomas Schmalz who offered to recreate the statue in bronze and donate half the cost.
More information about Diman's connection with Sinclairville and events surrounding the theft is found on the site. During the last Memorial Day Service before the statue was stolen, Diman, then about 12, was chosen to recite the Gettysburg address.
Diman wrote, "I will probably never know who stole our 'Soldier at Parade Rest' but I certainly know who is responsible for replacing it. Responsibility lies with us." For that reason, he created a mirror, with the words "Who is responsible?"
Was theft a 'prank?'
In May 26, 2008, The Post-Journal in Jamestown reported the Valley Historical Society was appealing to the public for information that could lead to answers about the theft of the statue "with no questions asked and no legal consequences."
In that article Larry Barmore was quoted, "In the years to come, the statue may be replaced. However, theft of the bronze soldier and its fate are matters of community history that cannot be replaced."
He was hoping that either the statue or information about it would be found before the village's bicentennial.
Barmore gave the opinion of the late Donald Jordan, town/village historian, who headed the Evergreen Cemetery Association at the time of the theft.
"(He) always believed the bronze soldier was taken as a prank, and because of the uproar that followed, the perpetrator was too scared to return the statue," Barmore said.
Barmore was recently contacted and asked about responses to the 2008 request for information.
He wrote, "I received some anonymous letters and tips but none panned out. One said it was sold to a scrap yard, one said it was in a person's barn and one said it was thrown over a bridge into the Cassadaga Creek. I had a sheriff's dive team do a training dive there but they found nothing.
"I received a letter from an 'eyewitness' whose family living next to the cemetery watched it being stolen and knew who the four men were. They said the four were all dead now but two wives remained and they didn't want them to be embarrassed by revealing their names. When questioned, none of the families around the cemetery seem to know about the letter.
"Actually, I phoned every male that graduated CVCS from 1962-1967. I figured the way kids talk that someone would know something. Ninety-five percent didn't even know there was a statue much less that it was missing."
A beautiful replica statue created by a master sculptor now graces Evergreen Cemetery, but the mystery continues. Check back in 46 more years.
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