Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 22 May 2012 15:10
Titled “Peabody’s Roll of Honor in the World War for Humanity,” the painting was donated to the library during the first week of January 1919 by a local artist, Jack Logan.
Framed by the township board and mounted on the wall above the stairwell that leads to the library basement, the painting became essentially hidden in plain sight for more than nine decades by library furnishings and the passage of time.
That changed after Rodger Charles stepped into the part-time position as library director last August.
“When I started talking about it, people would go, ‘What painting are you talking about?’ I’d say the one hanging over the stairs that people have used hundreds of time,” Charles said. “They’ve walked within six inches of it and missed it.”
Rodgers has since rearranged some things that stood in front of it.
“Now, people are starting to notice it a little bit and are starting to ask about it,” he said.
The painting is no small creation, measuring 5 feet by 7 feet within the locally crafted ornate frame. It features the U.S. flag set against a backdrop of ocean waves with the shadowy image of Lady Liberty on the horizon.
Of particular interest, the painting lists the names of the 183 local men who enlisted for military duty during “the war to end all wars.” The names of six volunteers who died in action appear in gold lettering at the head of the list while the others are lettered beneath in black.
“The story on this painting is incredible,” Rodgers said. “Of course, everybody whose name is on it has passed away. But there are names on it that are still in town. For one of the names, his son is in his 80s and is part of my church—he didn’t know the painting was here either.”
Scope of the project
Rodgers and the library board are committed to restoring both the quality of the painting as well as the honor it deserves as a unique tribute to the community’s heroic and sacrificial past.
The board has hired Pam Vanlandingham from The Frame Guild in Wichita to clean, restore and preserve the painting. The cost of the project is estimated at $5,000.
“It is part of our historic building and thus falls under the protection of the National Historic Registry,” Rodgers said. “With this in mind, we are only allowed to use somebody who is a professional and qualified to work on historic pieces, like this one is. Pam is the closest specialist to Peabody.”
When Vanlandingham first came down to look at the painting, Rodgers said she was astonished that it had endured after more than nine decades of relative neglect.
Rodgers described the unique circumstances that contributed to its survival as nothing less than “miracles.”
“For one thing, Mr. Logan did not paint it on canvas, which actually worked to our advantage,” he said. “If it had been (on canvas), the temperature fluctuations in our library would have caused the paint to separate from the canvas and the painting would have been lost.
“Another ‘accident’ that worked to our favor was that the only wall in our library that could hold the painting is also the only wall in the library that never gets exposed to direct sunlight,” he said. “If it was, once again the painting would have been lost.”
Rodgers said the dust that has dulled the portrait over the years also may protected the original paint.
“She said this will probably be an absolutely eye-popping piece once we get 93 years of farm dirt off it,” he said.
The painting’s public obscurity may have been another blessing in disguise.
“If we had undertaken getting it cleaned 40 years ago or so, the chemicals they used back then are causing some paintings to become damaged today,” Rodgers said.
Finally, Rodgers said Vanlandingham was shocked to see the painting hanging on the wall by a wire strung across the back of the frame.
“She said that was scaring her to death,” Rodgers said. “Wire stretches over time, and when it reaches a point where it is no longer able to stretch, it will pop and the thing will come down. Hanging here for 93 years, the wire has probably stretched as far as it’s going to. Bumping and stuff like that could cause it to snap.”
In the midst of the miracles, those involved with the project are confident the painting can be fully restored.
“Pam said once we get it cleaned and preserved with the stuff she puts on it—and with the things she’s going to equip us with to help us take care of it from now on—100 years from now it’s not going to look half as bad as it does now,” he said.
Restoring the painting has been only part of the intrigue—and the challenge. Efforts are under way to find out more about the veterans that make up the roll of honor.
So far, the biggest challenge has been finding information about the artist himself.
“We found descendants of a John Logan who lives here in town, but every single one of them said nobody in their family would have been able to paint—they couldn’t even do paint by numbers,” Rodgers joked.
“We do not know the history of Jack Logan, and cannot even tell if he was a professional painter,” he added. “I called the Topeka Art Museum, the Wichita Art Museum and the state historical society trying to find Jack Logan. They got on data bases and searched—nobody could find him anywhere.”
Recently, while searching the local newspapers from that period, Rodgers may have stumbled upon a clue for future research.
“Miracles are still happening because right in the middle of the page is this little three-line block that said, ‘Jack Logan and his wife and infant were leaving to go to Ellinwood upon hearing about the death of Jack’s sister-in-law.’”
“Everything is leading me to believe that Jack Logan was Average Joe Peabody. He was just a guy here in town who was very gifted artistically. We have search and searched.”
Helping research the names appearing on the painting is local veterinarian Virginia Skinner, whose family roots go deep into Peabody’s past. She found out about the project while checking out a book.
“Rodger told me about what he was doing,” she said. “Just like most everybody else, I looked at that painting and I said, ‘I don’t remember that thing.’
“I told Rodger I knew a lot of those old fellows when I was a kid, and I know a lot of their descendants. Wouldn’t it be fun to try find as many descendants as we can? He said go for it.”
Using the telephone, letters, old newspapers and word of mouth, Skinner has been able to contact descendants for 65 of the 183 names.
“People are so excited to talk about their family,” she said. “I don’t get as many stories about the actual soldiers and sailors as I had hoped for, because that’s 93 years ago. But some stories have come down through the families.”
Skinner’s primary goal for contacting the descendants is to invite them to the service planned for 1 p.m. Saturday at the library. The event is intended to reintroduce the painting to the community and solicit support for the preservation project.
Skinner said several descendants have said they plan to attend, and some are bringing memorabilia of their ancestor.
“We’re going to have a list of the names at the ceremony on Saturday,” she said. “The ones we have found will be marked, and the ones where we haven’t had any luck finding, we’d like people to help with that.”
Skinner said she plans to continue her research past Saturday’s event with the hope of perhaps publishing her findings in some form.
Rodgers said the stories of these heroes need to be preserved and shared. The information he has discovered about a couple of those who died in action “are worthy of a novel or even an award-winning motion picture.
“Our goal is, 100 years from now, the stories are still here,” he said. “None of them are to be forgotten.?Their sacrifice was paramount.”
As Saturday’s event draws near, Rodgers said he has been gratified to see how the project has taken on life, and is humbled to have played a part in what seems to part of a higher plan.
“If we had hired another librarian that didn’t have that passion, that painting could have disappeared and no one would have known it was gone,” he said. “Nobody would have missed it.
“It started out being a bain of my existence, and it has turned out to be one of the biggest diamonds anybody could ever find.”
‘Peabody’s Roll Call of Honor’: 183 enlistees during World War I
In gold (killed in action):
George T. Carson
William M. Funk
Lawrence W. Turner
William A. Wehr
In black (survivors):
Ira Earl Anderson
Smith Bailey Jr.
Merrill G. Baker
Harris G. Beck
Warren Leslie Bigelow
Walter Lee Blount
Harold H. Brindley
Willie Ray Brown
Dr. Heber Butts
William N. Carney
Blain A. Darrow
Wilber O. Fawley
Blaine E. Fisher
Eugene J. Gennette
Nathan B. Gillis
David M. Greene
Willie P. Hall
Marlin C. Hansen
Harry L. Hansen
Archie W. Harper
Ray McK. Hoch
Guy H. Jackson
Dr. E.H. Johnson
Fred A. Keiler
Neil A. Keltner
Howard B. Keltner
Earl W. Knight
Robert A. Larsen
Renn M. Lawrence
Edw. B. Logan
R.E. LoVellette, DDS
Stanley P. McClave
Earl Carlisle Moore
Will C. Morgan
Joe Nusbaum Jr.
Sam A. Oveson
Hal D. Owen
Fred Pettit Jr.
Dr. Benton T. Prather
A. Leroy Russell
Eugene C. Sager
Lonnie R. Shepler
A. Rex Tharp
Chauncey E. Tipton
Harold F. Wehry
Howard G. Wertz
Walter E. White