Goddess up close
Photo Courtesy TxDoT
statue that sits atop the Capitol
in Austin is something of a mystery. Her
name, origin and even the material she's made of have been debated
for years. No one can say with certainty if she is a Goddess of Wisdom,
Justice, Victory - or even if she is a “Goddess” at all. No woman
ever stepped forward to claim posing for the statue and when the statue
is observed up close - it become very clear. The "strong" features
were intentionally exaggerated to make her appear "normal" when viewed
from below. She's quite startling when viewed up close.
Over the years there have been several men who have claimed that a
female ancestor of theirs had the honor of posing. (No woman has made
such a claim.)
|Goddess of Liberty
in front of the Texas
Vintage Photo Courtesy Texas State Library And Archives
The Drunken Ride of Tom the Stonemason
the Capitol was
still under construction, a stonecutter named Tom Vorshardt claimed
it was his wife's face that was cast. Tom was said to be related to
the partners that had cast the statue; so it wasn't outside the realm
of possibility. Several controversies were swirling around the building
during this time. Things like using free convict labor and the importing
of skilled Scottish stonemasons. Tom wasn't a convict or Scottish.
He would've, however, become a Scottish convict - if it meant a job.
What Tom was - was unemployed. When he couldn't get hired he got mad
and then set out to get even. One night, mounting his reluctant steed,
Tom rode off to steal the statue. That would show them!
While he might have been a crackerjack stonemason, Tom wasn't very
good with physics. He managed to tie a noose around the statue’s neck
and then tie the other end of his rope to his saddle horn. He then
rode off on a trip that lasted exactly as long as his rope. Tom was
still spitting out Capitol
lawn when the police arrived and arrested him for riding under the
influence, attempting to steal a goddess and using vile language against
convicts and Scots. Tom produced a photo of his wife to prove his
claim. This didn’t explain why he tried to steal the statue or what
he’d planned to do with it. Surely Austin
pawnbrokers would be notified. A resemblance between his wife and
the statue was noted and the police sympathized with him all the way
to headquarters. One of the wags (who always seem to be on hand for
incidents like this) stated "the goddess was prettier.”
A Very Tall Tale
Austin legend has it that one dark and
stormy night the goddess somehow became dislodged. She lost her balance
and was hanging on to the dome by one lone bolt – and a rusty one
at that. This fanciful story has her being rescued by firemen, fraternity
brothers from UT and just plain patriotic Austinites that just happened
to be in the neighborhood. Republicans and Democrats were united in
a common effort to save the damsel in distress. They climbed upward
into the black night, fighting wind, lightning and golf balls the
size of hailstones to secure the robed statue. Or should that be hailstones
the size of golf balls? Anyway, there's not a lick of truth to it.
Especially the part about Republicans and Democrats working together.
Her origin has been suggested as Belgium, France, Spain or Chicago.
It seems a foreign birthplace might explain that face. Another legend
says that an older sister lies in a watery grave at the bottom of
the Atlantic Ocean. This one, the legend says, is an insurance company
replacement sent a year later. Who knows?
Some assembly required?
say that the statue was cast right there on the Capitol
grounds, while others say she arrived in pieces and was assembled
on site. Another source says she arrived in one piece on a specially
built wagon - and there may be a photo proving that story.
only known miniature statue.
Courtesy Harold Bell and Family
Bell of Decatur,
Texas was observant enough to recognize a miniature of the statue
at a Wise County foundry a few years ago. He bought it and took it
home - where it sits in a place of honor. Originally the miniature
statues were to be mass produced and sold to patriotic Texans. There
is little doubt that the 14-inch casting is related to the original,
although on this one the facial features have been softened somewhat
- so as not to frighten children.
attempt at reinstallation in the mid 1980s).
restoration of the Capitol
in the mid-1980s cleared up at least one point concerning the statue.
It was finally determined that she was zinc. Other discoveries revealed
her head had once held a hive of bees with her generous nostrils providing
entrance and egress. Another discovery was a still-readable 1888 newspaper.
After sandblasting, primer and paint, the goddess was ready to ascend
back to her beautiful perch - not an easy project. The National Guard
Sikorsky Skycrane that had taken her down was supposed to put her
back in place - but the last phase was much more difficult than the
first. High winds extended the 20-minute operation to multiple tries
over the next three days. Austinites held their breath and the drama
saturated local news. Just ask any Austinite where they were "the
day the goddess returned." Chances are, they'll answer: "Goddess?
Capitol’s Lady by Audray Bateman, The Texas Folklore Society ed.
By Francis Edward Abernethy, E-heart Press, 1981
Harold Bell, Decatur, Texas, January 2003