Pennsylvania Historians Hunt for Vanished Lincoln Monument

Few of the 3,000 historic postcards in Jack Hiddlestone's collection are as veiled in mystery as the one with Abraham Lincoln on the front.

The postcard, from 1909, depicts an ornate stone pillar decked out with bronze eagles and lions and topped by an enormous bronze bust of the nation's 16th president. Along the bottom of the card are the words "Lincoln Monument, Nay Aug Park."

Here's the mystery: Sometime in the early decades of the 20th century, the 16-foot-tall structure — which had been dedicated with great fanfare on July 4, 1909, the centennial year of Lincoln's birth — simply vanished.

And no one still living seems to know where it went.

As Scranton prepares to celebrate Lincoln's bicentennial next year, Hiddlestone and other local historians — who only recently confirmed the memorial's existence — are now trying to find out what happened to it. Their dream: to locate Lincoln and bring him back to Nay Aug Park by Independence Day, 2009.

"Ideally, someone would say, 'I know where that is,' said Mary Ann Moran-Savakinus, executive director of the Lackawanna County Historical Society. "Someone from the Midwest would call us and say, 'We purchased it and moved it out here."'

No such luck so far. The historical society has looked through its records and taken inventory of its holdings but has found no reference to the memorial or its fate.

"It's just depressing," Moran-Savakinus said. "It's very unfortunate that it's not documented somewhere. Things like that just don't disappear."

Hiddlestone stumbled on the Lincoln postcard while browsing at a postcard show in Allentown a decade ago. He was baffled by its reference to Nay Aug Park, one of his favorite haunts as a boy growing up in the 1930s and '40s.

Hiddlestone, 79, often swam or went ice skating at Nay Aug and didn't remember ever seeing a Lincoln bust, certainly not one as large and elaborate as the monument on the postcard. He asked around and none of his fellow history buffs knew anything about it, either. The historical society queried its members and got no response.

Hiddlestone, who has published several booklets on local history and lore, came to doubt the postcard's veracity. The subject was dropped.

But not for good.

As it happens, a reporter for The Times-Tribune of Scranton spotted a photo of that very same monument while rummaging through the paper's archives last month.

The photo, in which more than a dozen men, women and children are seen posing with the monument, appeared in the July 3, 1909 edition with a caption that said the bust was to be presented to the city as part of the Independence Day dedication of Lake Lincoln, a manmade lake at Nay Aug Park.

A few days later, on July 6, 1909, the paper reported that 20,000 people were in attendance as Scranton's Italian consul, Fortunato Tiscar, presented the monument to Mayor John Von Bergen Jr., who proclaimed it "that magnificent bust of the immortal Lincoln."

With that kind of documentary evidence, there's no longer any doubt that Honest Abe occupied a place of honor at the city-owned park.

"Now the question is, why isn't it there today?" Hiddlestone said.

A clue might be found in one of Hiddlestone's own booklets. There, on page 26, is a reproduction of a 1921 postcard titled "Merry Bathers, Lake Lincoln" that shows the monument along a distant shore of the lake, next to a bathhouse. The image is blurry, but unmistakable. A reader spotted it a few weeks ago and alerted the newspaper.

Hiddlestone was sheepish.

"I know my collection really well, but I never put a (magnifying) glass on that shoreline and looked at it," he said.

Since the monument was situated along the water, one promising theory holds that when Lake Lincoln was renovated and expanded in the '20s, officials realized it was in the way and took it down.

If that's true, there's little hope that the memorial's intricately carved stone base has survived.

But Charles Spano, who chairs Lackawanna County's Lincoln bicentennial commission, said the bronze bust may still be out there, perhaps in storage at a museum somewhere.

"Maybe somebody in that museum will look in their collection and there might be some provenance" to indicate that it came from Scranton, he said.

There's one thing he's sure about: "You just didn't walk up, stick it under your coat and take it home."