Though the famous statue of General Archibald Gainsborough in Ataraxia Park is made of bronze, sculptor Jeffery Couveign chose to create the general’s sword as a separate piece, made of stainless steel, hoping the weapon would “shine in the sun, as a symbol of the illuminating potential of violence.”
Here is a listing- in chronological order- of occurrences in which the sword has been broken off, removed or stolen from the statue:
1922 – Local youths broke the sword off the statue for the first time after an older boy stole the stick they were using for a bat in a game of stick ball. They only attempted to use it for two at-bats before group leader Butchie Flatts remarked, “Aw, saucepans! This pig-sticker’s too heavy to heave!” and discarded it.
1926 – Director Mack Sennett chose to shoot a Keystone Cops short here, taking advantage of the city’s cheap labor market and loose safety regulations. One gag chase was plotted to end with the Cops’ paddy wagon colliding with the statue of Gainsborough. During rehearsal, the sword broke off and impaled one of the actors, killing him.
1940 – For reasons unknown, the sword simply fell off one August morning. A city maintenance worker was quoted in the Sun-Recorder, speculating, “maybe from a pigeon?”
1943 – Beverly Gainsborough (male), allegedly a descendent of the general, removed the sword under the impression that it was the actual weapon that had belonged to his ancestor. He believed that the sword was rightfully his inheritance and planned to sell it to earn enough money to build his own corn dog stand. “I could make money, and have all the corn dogs I want, see?” he said to the arresting officer.
1947 – Count Basie’s Brilliant Band held a free concert in the park, during which the sword fell off again. Likely the vibration from the music was the cause, though local minister Reverend Michael Armbruster opined that the spirit of General Gainsborough dropped the sword intentionally, “shocked by the sound of the devil music and the shamed by the sight of local youths engaged in the disgusting and provocative Lindy Hop.”
1951 – In response to a hoax radio show about a nuclear war with Russia broadcast by WKVD-AM deejay Wink Timbers, a riot broke out in Ataraxia Park. One rioter removed the sword and bludgeoned a homeless man with it, under the impression that he was one of the mole people Timbers mentioned as a post-strike invasion force.
1977 – The sword was broken off by pranksters and replaced with an over-sized fiberglass hamburger stolen from a local Big Boy restaurant.
1980 – The city received $5,000 from film producer George Lucas to remove the sword and replace it with a prop lightsaber for the summer as a promotion for the second Star Wars film. Similar offers were made to the historical landmark departments of other cities, though no others accepted. The lightsaber remained in place for the next thirteen months.
1997 – After playing a concert in nearby War Memorial Stadium, persons unknown associated with the band Hanson stole the sword as a souvenir of their visit. The city has yet to replace it, though General Gainsborough’s outstretched hand has not always remained empty in the intervening years.
Opportunists, promoters and pranksters have enjoyed placing various items in the general’s hand, including pennants of local sports teams, political signs, a stick with a carrot on the end (which appeared to be luring the General’s bronze steed forward), rope licorice, pom poms, ping pong paddles and, occasionally, lewd gadgetry.
– Brodie H. Brockie