Thursday, June 22, 2017

Johnny Reb is removed from Lake Eola.


The statue of Johnny Reb was first erected in 1911 in Orlando near the courthouse which is now the Orange County Regional History Center. In 1917, it was moved to Lake Eola because the base was bowing, and because cars were becoming popular, there was a fear that it might collapse and become a hazard with all the new automotive activity. When the statue was moved this year starting around 7AM on June 20th, workers found a metal box inside the upper base of the statue. It was reported that a time capsule had been found. It was moved to City Hall. Paper on the boxes surface had disintegrated with age.

An Orlando Regional History Center historian, scanned newspaper articles from 1911 and found that the box contained newspapers from the dedication day along with several Confederate flags, some Confederate coins, a picture of General Robert E. Lee on his horse, Traveller, and a list of the members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and veterans responsible for the statue's creation. The box likely wasn't intended as a time capsule but instead was put in place to honor fallen Confederate solders. Since it isn't a time capsule with an intended opening date of say 100 or 200 years, there is some debate as to whether the box should be opened at all. 1911 United Daughters of the Confederacy meeting minutes are being sought and researched to find out if the box was ever intended to be opened. The fact that the box has been moved inside means that decomposition might accelerate if it were returned unopened to the statue which is being relocated to Greenwood Cemetery. The condition of the objects inside the box is uncertain. There is plenty of heat and humidity in Florida, so paper items have possibly turned to dust in the 106 years it has been sealed inside the statue's marble base. A City Hall spokesperson claimed that bugs are coming out from the box.To properly conserve the items inside, the box would need to be placed in refrigeration for about a week to be sure to kill off any bacteria and bugs inside. Items would need to be preserved with the same deliberate delicacy and dedication as the items collected from Pulse memorials. Staff at the History Center have opened 150 year old time capsules before.

I made my way to Lake Eola to sketch Johnny Reb's last day on Government property. An American flag waved over the scene rather than a Confederate flag and I found it fascinating that the 18 wheeler used to transport the statue had a rainbow colored coil that ran from the cab to the trailer. Across the lake the rainbow colored Disney Amphitheater also added color to the occasion. Online face-time videos of the statues removal elicited lots of angry faced emoticons along with a few hearts. I find it amazing that a public statue's relocation could bring about so many heated emotions.

Some feel that moving the statue to the cemetery is like ignoring or pushing aside aspects of our past while others feel it is removing a symbol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. Today, Tampa elected to keep a Confederate monument standing at it's courthouse. Our city is still recovering from a massacre that was fueled by hate at the Pulse Nightclub. Johnny Reb stood vigilant for 106 years without garnering much attention from the homeless gathered at his feet. In the 1960's his gun was stolen, broken, and scattered around Orlando. Sculptor Albin Polasek created a replacement gun. The sculpture's removal sparked many arguments about history and who gets to write it. Johnny is in storage while city permits are being acquired for building a new foundation at Greenwood Cemetery. I drive past Greenwood almost daily and see the four headstones of Pulse victims that are laid to rest there. Bright rainbow colored balloons were added in remembrance one year after the shooting. Perhaps Johnny Reb will one day hold rainbow colored balloons instead of his gun. In 1911 the statue was created with a budget of about $120.00. It is being moved and renovated with a budget of $120,000.00. The knee jerk reactions to this statue's fate seem like a diversion from the really important issues that allowed 49 innocent people to be murdered as they danced.


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