Missouri News

Old photos of Lady Justice statue cause flap during commission meeting

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 19, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Mar. 20, 2017 8:12 am

PALMYRA, Mo. -- The Lady Justice statue standing atop the Marion County Courthouse in Palmyra is known, on occasion, to serve as a perch for local pigeons.

Last week, however, some century-old photos of the statue caused a bit of a flap themselves during the Marion County Commission's weekly meeting on the main floor of the courthouse.

The pictures had been given to Teya Stice, the county's land use and capital improvements coordinator, by Andrew Salsman, manager of the Ace Hardware store in Palmyra.

Salsman had been cleaning out some boxes that belonged to his mother when he came across the photographs. Several black-and-white images depicted work being performed around the statue by his grandmother's uncle, Richard Stuetzer, a painter who was involved in placing the statue atop the clock tower as the courthouse was being built in 1900.

Salsman said he had no need for the photos, so he decided to give them to the county for their historic value.

"I was just going through stuff and decided that, instead of seeing it go to a landfill, I'd give it to somebody who can use it or appreciate it. You can only hold on to so much stuff," he said in an interview.

Stice, who has an appreciation for history, happily accepted the photos on behalf of the county.

"I just thought they were neat," Stice said.

Stice brought the photos to Monday's commission meeting, saying she hoped to have them framed and placed on display inside the courthouse.

As she showed the photos to the three commissioners, Presiding Commissioner Lyndon Bode remarked: "We may have to cover part of Lady Justice."

He was referring to the fact that Lady Justice -- depicted holding a scale in her left hand and a sword in her right hand -- is clothed in a toga-looking garment that falls open across the right shoulder, exposing the statue's right breast.

Several of the photos happened to focus on that particular part of the statue's anatomy.

These close-up views posed a concern for Bode, who wondered if some people might find the photos objectionable if displayed.

"I don't really think I want them in the courthouse -- not some of these," he said.

This precipitated a discussion about the appropriateness of having the photos on exhibit.

"I don't think they're that bad," Stice said.

Western District Commissioner Steve Begley then joined the debate.

"I wouldn't have any problem displaying those pictures in the courthouse," he said. "I mean, we've got her (on display) on top of the courthouse," Begley said.

"She's showing it up there," chimed in Valerie Dornberger, the county clerk.

Begley noted that the statue is so far above the ground that "you'd need binoculars" to see any detail involving the statue's bodily characteristics.

Several other county employees and members of the news media then looked over the photos, and more discussion ensued over morality issues involving public art.

Bode said he was pleased to hear several regional newspapers were interested in writing stories about the photos and possibly publishing one or more of them.

"It will be interesting to see what people think," he said.

The Lady Justice statue is the second noteworthy ornament to be perched atop a Marion County Courthouse in Palmyra. The county's original Palmyra courthouse, built in 1855, was topped by a large copper ball known as a finial.

In 1862, while Northeast Missouri was embroiled in the Civil War, the ball served as a bull's-eye for a group of Confederates who ventured into Palmyra to raid the Union-held courthouse for rifles, ammunition and other provisions. After securing their booty, the rebels used the ball for target practice and shot several holes in it. That happened the same year that 10 civilians were executed just outside of town in an event known as the Palmyra Massacre.

The bullet-riddled ball was placed in storage after the first courthouse was torn down around the turn-of-the-century to make way for the current courthouse.

After several attempts were made over the years to display the historic ball on the grounds outside the courthouse, repeated vandalism eventually forced county officials to move the ball into the courthouse's rotunda, where it remains on display today.

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