The crash victim was missing a head, but fortunately no one was seriously injured.
Nearly 80 years later, details of the accident are still mysterious. It was a foggy night in July 1932, shortly after midnight, when an automobile slammed into a granite landmark in the heart of Peninsula. A heroic figure, perched more than 30 feet off the ground, lost balance and toppled to the ground.
By dawn’s early light, townsfolk discovered that the battered body had been dragged to the side of the road. Its head was nowhere to be found. The driver had fled the scene.
The 6-foot-6 statue was the crowning glory of a towering monument that stood at the present-day intersection of state Route 303 and Riverview Road. What was it doing in the middle of the road? When it was sculpted, no one knew that automobiles were coming.
Akron residents Col. Arthur Latham Conger and his wife, Emily Bronson Conger, both natives of Boston Township, presented the monument to their hometown on July 4, 1889, “to commemorate the bravery and patriotism of the soldiers and sailors who served in the War of Rebellion from 1861 to 1865.”
The colonel was a Civil War veteran and a leader in the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans group. He was president of Akron Steam Forge Co. and the Whitman & Barnes Manufacturing Co., and was the former treasurer of Summit County.
Peninsula was decked out in red, white and blue for the Fourth of July dedication ceremony, which attracted more than 2,500 spectators from across the county. The Eighth Regiment Band, Peninsula Cornet Band and Peninsula Choir performed patriotic songs while hundreds of people marched in a street parade.
As the Summit County Beacon reported: “The day was everything that could be desired; the weather fine; the crowd a large one; the decorations in the town beautiful and appropriate; the procession a creditable one; the speeches eloquent and full of patriotism; the music inspiring; and every detail of the arrangements faultless.”
With the shrouded memorial looming nearby, dignitaries delivered formal addresses at the GAR Hall of the George L. Waterman Post. Eldest son Kenyon B. Conger delivered the presentation address, youngest son Latham H. Conger dressed in a uniform and rode a pony, and second son Arthur Latham Conger Jr. unveiled the monument.
The granite memorial featured a 6-foot, 5-ton base, a square pedestal with the engraved names of the benefactors and 141 troops, a 25-foot shaft with the Grand Army badge and a life-size statue of a Union infantryman resting on a rifle. It had cost $3,000 (more than $92,000 today).
Onlookers described it as “handsome,” “beautiful,” “very nice indeed” and “a superb work of art.”
Civil War veterans circled the monument and said a prayer for fallen comrades before enjoying refreshments served on tables beneath canvas tents.
The crowd gave Arthur Latham Conger three hearty cheers as his train left Peninsula for Akron.
During the horse-and-buggy era, the monument was perfectly situated. Horses knew to walk around it. The advent of automobiles presented unforeseen difficulties, however — especially at night.
A wrought-iron fence deflected most of the motorists who weren’t paying attention when a granite monument suddenly loomed in front of them. The memorial’s heavy base was nicked countless times.
With more and more automobiles on the road in the late 1920s, residents began to worry that the grand structure had become a traffic hazard. Some officials proposed moving it out of harm’s way.
The Grand Army of the Republic vehemently objected, adopting a formal resolution in 1930 that the monument “be perpetually maintained; that its worth is of great historic value, that the village council can well afford to preserve this by placing concrete posts connected with heavy chain or suitable iron guards, and by further placing corrugated glass [red] plates facing the intersection of each road as warning to approaching vehicles.”
Off with the head
The uneasy truce held until July 1932, when a reckless motorist smashed into the fog-enshrouded monument.
The infantryman plunged to an ignoble fate. For months, a headless body languished in tall weeds near the GAR Hall.
Boston Township trustees adopted a resolution of their own Aug. 29:
“Whereas, the Soldiers Monument, located at the junction of the West River Road and the Peninsula-Richfield Road, is a menace and an obstruction to traffic and,
“Whereas it is claimed that said monument is the property of Boston Township,
“Therefore be it resolved by this Board of Trustees that we urge the Council of the Village of Peninsula to petition the County authorities to move the monument to a location where it will no longer endanger life or property.”
Peninsula leaders approved the measure in October. County officials followed suit in February 1933.
Workers dismantled the granite landmark and laboriously moved it to Cedar Grove Cemetery in Peninsula.
The crowning statue wasn’t as tall as it used to be. The head was still missing — and apparently being held for ransom.
“Many theories have been advanced concerning the mysterious disappearance, but the majority of Peninsula residents are of the opinion that someone who wanted the statue moved from its position in the center of the road hid the severed head,” the Akron Times-Press reported July 23, 1933.
“Reports of its reposing in various rock gardens, behind buildings in and near the city have been investigated, but to date, no trace of the head has been found.”
Peninsula Solicitor Ernest R. Genovese announced a $10 reward for the return of the head or information leading to its return. No questions asked.
The offer may have worked.
Just as mysteriously as it disappeared, the head returned. Workers securely reattached it.
To this day, it isn’t public knowledge who took the bizarre trophy or who brought it back more than a year later. The incident has become a colorful part of local folklore. The Peninsula Library and Historical Society features the Civil War memorial in an exhibit at the Cuyahoga Valley Historical Museum in the 1887 Boston Township Hall at Route 303 and Riverview Road.
Far removed from passing cars, the heroic soldier has stood guard at the Peninsula cemetery ever since.
Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price is the author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or email@example.com.