EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.
By R.L. HEMINGER
Just 50 years ago yesterday — Sept. 1, 1922 — the lofty statue of John Hancock atop the Hancock County Courthouse tumbled off its perch in a storm and plunged earthward. The statue had been standing above the county building for some 34 years when it became a victim of the heavy storm which visited the local community.
Put atop the courthouse when it was built in the late 1880′s, the statue broke into a number of pieces when it fell. A Columbus firm was engaged by county commissioners to put the statue together again and place it back where it belonged.
It was on a Friday night that the storm spelled the statue’s doom. The hour was around 7 p.m. The storm, which did around $150,000 damage in the community, generally was characterized by heavy, rolling thunder and severe lightning.
The 16-foot high statue in its descent struck and pierced a portion of the courthouse roof and then went on down, landing on a second-story projection, just outside the probate court offices on the southeast side. It remained there until the next day when it was taken down and what was described by the Morning Republican as the “crumbled mass” was placed in the courthouse storage area that once was a coal bin when coal was the fuel that heated the county building.
During the night when the statue was suspended above the ground on the projection, Sheriff Frank E. Hoy roped off the general area to keep people away. One arm of the statue was gone, the left side was caved in and the head was badly damaged. The statue evidently fell on the head.
Examination showed that the statue’s feet had become badly rusted over the years. The statue was held in place by two large iron pipes which served as supports in the back. They were fastened to a pedestal atop the dome.
Some thought the figure was struck by lightning in the storm, which continued several hours. The statue had been given a coat of blue enamel the year before it was blown down, in a refurbishing program authorized by commissioners.
The county commissioners gave immediate consideration to the problem of just what to do. Some thought the statue was damaged beyond repair and could not be fixed. Others urged all efforts toward restoration. A suggestion came that the statue of a doughboy be erected atop the building.
After a few weeks, the county commissioners got in touch with a Columbus firm which specialized in statue work, the F.O. Shoedinger Co., which said it felt the statue could be restored. So the “remains” of the county’s patron saint were removed to Columbus by truck. A representative of the Shoedinger firm came to Findlay from Columbus after a few weeks and went to the courthouse tower where the statue had stood. He wanted to measure the shoes, which remained on the tower in the storm. They were 22 inches in length and 8 inches high. There also was intact a small stand resembling a stump on which there was a cloth and a book, supposed to be a law volume.
After some months, the restoration was finished and the Columbus firm brought it back and replaced it on the top of the Hancock County Courthouse. The restoration was regarded as a good one. The cost to the county was $875.
There has been some difference of opinion as to just what was in the statue’s hands during its 34-year period above the courthouse, prior to the fall. Some insist there was a scroll in the Hancock hands, representing the Declaration of Independence, on which his signature appears in such large script. There also has been a contention that Hancock was holding a musket. The adherents to the scroll theory say the musket which was found on the ground after the storm was blown from the hands of the Civil War soldier’s monument which stood on the southeast lawn of the county building and which now is located in the war memorial grounds at Maple Grove Cemetery.
The John Hancock statue stands upon a tower that is 130 feet above the ground. It is 107 feet to the center of the clock dial. The clock dial is 9 feet in diameter. The statue was bought at a price of $950 by the county in the 1880s. The statuary group outside the window of the office of the clerk of courts cost $1,900.
The courthouse, the third in the county’s history, was dedicated Oct. 27, 1888. Work was in progress for three years to construct the building. The entire construction cost amounted to $305,272.53. However, the complete financial outlay came to $511,010, including interest on the bonds which were authorized by the voters. Some of the bonds went through a refunding process.