The Marion County Courthouse is one of the oldest buildings in the city. It was built sometime between 1884-1886. It is one of three courthouses that was designed by architect David W. Gibbs, the other two being the Washington Court House in Fayette County, Ohio, and Charlotte, Eaton County, Michigan. The courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once the drone was up there it caused quite a controversy within the county as to who and how it should be removed. The controversy ended up gaining national attention. On May 6, 2013, volunteers climbed to the bell tower and successfully retrieved the helicopter from Lady Justice with a long pole.
This wasn't the first time Marion County's Lady Justice had received national attention.
Justice Held Hostage
Early in the 1980's, when I was just a little girl, my mother took me to the courthouse to watch Lady Justice return to her rightful place 100 feet a top the courthouse. The entire country seemed to gather around the building. News reporters and camera's were everywhere. I remember watching the helicopter lift the statue into the air and gently place her on top. I will never forget that day. I was only around 4 years old at the time. I was so amazed by the entire ordeal. My mother had told me that the statue had been stolen as part of a prank in July 1952 and had been missing for about twenty years.
Here is an account of how Lady Justice was kidnapped and retrieved. This account was given to Trella Romine in 2010 by Richard Carey and was published as Lady Justice; The Rest Of The Story in August 30, 2010.
After 58 years I would like to tell the rest of the story surrounding the disappearance of Lady Justice in July 1952.
I was at the courthouse on farm business. At that time the courthouse had a hallway under the steps on the south side with entrance doors at the east and west end and a door into the courthouse. According to an article in the Marion Star the workmen had placed the Lady along the south wall of this hallway. When I went into the courthouse I noticed Lady Justice lying there. Later I told two of my friends about this. What if the lady came up missing? We thought this would be the best prank ever in Marion County History. We decided we would go to the courthouse that night and remove her.
I was 20 years old not yet married; Betty and I were married on August 23, 1952. My parents Edwin & Lucile along with my youngest brother Charles were on a big trip to the west coast being gone for over 2 weeks.
My two friends and I met about 10:00 PM at the farm. We took one of my father’s baby chicken, panel body delivery trucks with Carey Farms hatchery signs painted on the sides of it. We drove to Marion to the courthouse to size up the situation. We observed a City police cruiser parked along the street on the west side of the courthouse. This was not unusual in that the police often parked there to check out the taverns on North Main Street and others downtown. Not seeing any police officers we parked on the east side of the courthouse. We knew we had to act with the utmost speed. We decided that George Dennison and I would carry out the statue while Jerry (Shorty) Criswell would open and hold the door at the east end of the courthouse and open the van doors. We knew the statue only weighed about 60-70 pounds as I had checked this out earlier. We picked it up and carried it out to the van sliding it inside on a layer of straw that I had placed in the truck. We did not want to damage the Lady. We jumped into the van and drove away quickly. Much to our delight we were not observed and did not see any signs of the police. We then breathed sighs of relief.
Driving back to the farm we discussed what we could do with the Lady. Should we hold her for ransom? Should we make a casket and bury her in a grave? We decided to for the time being we would just hide her in an old barn on the farm among the several hundred bales of straw there. Here Lady Justice was hidden under the straw for many years.
Of course the disappearance of Lady Justice was noted in the Marion Star. The story told how a company representative came to Marion a few days later to pick up the lady for repair. But the commissioners had no knowledge of authorizing a company or man to pick up Lady Justice. In my opinion it seems that the dastardly deed by three young men eventually turned out to be the act that saved the Lady.
Over the course of years we decided to tear down the old barn. Now what to do? I was living down the road at 5211 Berry R and had a barn there. My brother Bill and I moved her to this new location. We built a casket about 4 feet by 4 feet by 9 feet long in the loft of the barn, placed her inside and sealed it up. I found later that some of the boards had been pried off. It appears that as my children were growing up they decided to look inside. Also, what had been a closely guarded secret was now being talked about in some circles. Over the course of time several people became aware of the hiding place of Lady Justice.
In 1980 I listened to Charlie Evers talking about local history on radio station WMRN. He inquired about Lady Justice and in this way I learned of the interest in trying to find her and in restoring her. One day when I was at the Green Camp Elevator in Green Camp Charlie dropped by to pick up advertising from the elevator for the radio station. I asked him to come outside to talk. I told Charlie about my part in the disappearance of the Lady and that I would gladly return her if he would keep the details confidential. I felt she should again grace the top of the Marion County Court House. The question was how to get this done. As I was deeply involved in Marion County history, and had served as president of the Marion County Historical Society, I knew this would be an embarrassment to both the Historical Society and myself.
Thus the headline for the story in the Marion Star of February 12, 1980 read, “Statue Coming Home.” This story indicated she had been dropped off at my home by two anonymous men when in fact she had resided at this location for about 20 years.
What started out as a prank, or called by some a dastardly deed, had a great ending. Some might even say the three men were three young men in shining armor who saved Lady Justice. Without this episode very likely there would not be a Lady of Justice on top of the Marion County Court House today.
There you have the rest of the story. You be the judge.