A historic landmark in Rush County is standing again, watching over the Moscow Cemetery after nearly two decades of being absent.
The Italian marble statue of John Owen was vandalized 17 years ago and broken into several pieces. Thanks to the interest of the Moscow Covered Bridge Restoration Committee and local historian Larry Stout, the statue has been repaired.
John “Walt” Walters, “The Graveyard Groomer” of Connersville, worked diligently to restore the statue.
Walters as fixed hundreds of tombstones, but this was his first marble statue. His wife mentioned he literally dreamed about the statue as he had a tremendous number of plans for repairing and erecting it. John and his helpers placed the statue back in its former location on March 30, 2013. A small group of onlookers was present for the event.
John Owen was born in 1860 to Joseph and Sarah Farlow Owen, who had settled near Moscow in 1818 or 1819. John Owen farmed the rolling hills of southern Rush County and died at the age of 35 after his appendix burst despite the surgery performed on him on the dining room table in the first appendix operation here.
Following his untimely death, according to historic reports, his grief-stricken parents decided to erect a statue of their son over his grave in Moscow Cemetery and although there were numerous difficulties they were not to be deterred.
They first gave the sculpturing job to an Indiana contractor, only to change to a Shelbyville firm when the contractor proved to be unsatisfactory. This firm informed the couple that only in Italy could a truly lifelike statue be sculptured.
The order was then sent to Italy, along with a photograph and measurements of Owen.
Several years passed before a large wooden box arrived containing the statue by barge in Cincinnati.
No family records indicate the exact cost; however, early accounts from the period simply says it was, “at great cost” to the Owen family.
The statue is a likeness in every detail down to the button holes in his dress suit jacket and tie around his neck.
Although the statue was slightly smaller than natural size, his parents were satisfied and the marble likeness of the young man was placed over his grave. After a harsh winter in which John was hatless, the still grieving mother thought his head should be protected. This situation was remedied by sending one of their sons hats, or its measurements, to the Italian sculptors with a plea to duplicate it. Again, a long period of time elapsed, but the marble hat finally arrived and was placed on John’s statue head, protecting him from the weather.
John stood watch over the cemetery for a few decades with no disturbance to him. People in Rush County and beyond heard of the statue and many came to view this example of a mother’s love for her son.
The first recorded time of the hat being taken off as a prank appeared in the 1950s. Occasionally, through the years, the hat would disappear around Halloween and reappear in Moscow a few days later. The hat disappeared in 1970 for about 18 months before it turned up in Westport. Great-nephew Steve Owen of Moscow, now deceased, spent a lot of time tracking down the hat.
Pranksters knocked off the hat several years later, but this time the marble hat broke apart as it hit the base. Eventually, the statue was left in pieces.
The broken statue was sheltered for the past 17 years by Billie Young Leffler, a descendent, until the means to restore it could be found.
John Owen’s statue, though hatless, now once again stands in his rightful place silently watching over the area. He is one of the few historical landmarks left in Moscow.
Rush County Heritage was behind the project, with money coming from the Moscow Covered Bridge Restoration Committee.
“We had money left over after the bridge was completed and the committee members agreed that this would be a great project to use it on. The balance in this fund will go to Heritage for future projects in the county, not necessarily Moscow,” Stout said.
On some Sunday afternoon, neighbors from throughout the county are invited to drive through Moscow and see this remarkable statue along with the restored covered bridge.
Information about the restorer can be found at www.graveyardgroomer.com.
- Rushville Republican