Sunday, July 8, 2012

What Would You Do?

While visiting a small, volunteer based historic site, we encountered the following:

We've been involved with Civil War living history for a long time, but we've never encountered this bit of information before.

A quick google search shows many sites that discuss this story, interestingly enough, all with the identical wording.

Most also include another story, crediting George Washington as the source of the statues:

"The origin of the lawn jockey has been traced back to George Washington and the famous midnight crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night. According to the story, among those with Washington was a twelve year old African-American named Jocko Graves. Graves wished to accompany Washington and the troops on the crossing but Washington felt it was too dangerous and charged Graves with staying behind with the horses. He ordered Graves to keep a lantern lit so that the troops upon their return could find their horses. After the raid against the Hessians, Washington and the troops returned to find Graves dead from exposure, his light still lit and in his hand. Washington was so moved that he commissioned a statue "Faithful Groomsman" to be made and placed by the young man's grave at his home Mount Vernon."

The Civil War story apparently can be traced to an article published in 1984 in National Geographic magazine, unfortunately I have not been able to find a copy of that issue. The writer shares a family history of the Underground Railroad and the statues - anyone thinking "Quilt Code"?

It seems fairly obvious that this is probably just the equivalent of a Civil War urban myth, in fact, a spokeman for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati has said that "there is no truth to the idea that lawn jockeys were used as part of the Underground Railroad."

Furthermore, experts, such as Ann Chandler Howell, who for 20 years has researched the cast iron industry of the 19th century, remain skeptical and have been unable to find any foundry records of production of such statues prior to the war years.

I'm well aware that in an uncertain economy, cultural sites are increasingly forced to rely ever more heavily on volunteers and donations and are sometimes pressured to display items that may not fit the objectives of the site.

My question is what is an appropriate response.action when you encounter such obviously erroneous information?

I would really like to hear from all my readers - the living historians, the artists, the Island enthusiasts, etc.

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