War painting holds a mystery

Staff writer

Who was Jack Logan, and why did he create the World War I commemorative painting that was removed from a wall in Peabody Township Library on Saturday?

People have searched in vain for answers behind the mystery of the 1919 painting “Peabody’s Roll of Honor,” and none were forthcoming when the painting was taken down to be shipped to Wichita for restoration.

“We assume it has been in this spot for all of its nearly 100 years,” librarian Rodger Charles said. “There isn’t another wall with enough space to accommodate it.”

The painting, in an ornate gold frame, is more than 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It was painted on wood instead of canvas and was hung on the wall along a stairway to the library basement. The position of the painting above the stairway meant it was installed close to the ceiling, away from any direct sunlight and too high to be touched by curious hands.

The painting is a memorial to the men from Peabody who fought in World War I. Pictured is a seascape with a cliff on the left. On the cliff is an eagle with a banner in its beak proclaiming “Freedom”. An American flag is unfurled on a flagpole above the eagle and an ethereal image of the Statue of Liberty stands behind them.

The names of all 175 who served from Peabody in World War 1 are included. The names of the seven who died are painted in gold while the rest are in black.

“We have no idea who Jack Logan was or why he was motivated to paint this,” Charles said. He obviously had some talent. This is such an important part of Peabody’s history.”

The painting was moved to begin a project that will bring Peabody Township Library into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The stairway under the painting and an additional stairway to the Ann Potter room, restrooms, and kitchen will be removed. The restrooms will be made handicap accessible and a lift will be installed at the back door where the stairways are now so handicapped individuals can reach the main floor and lower rooms.

“It is a major undertaking, but one we simply had to address,” Charles said. “A big issue was what to do with the painting, how to preserve it, and where to put it after the structural change.”

Charles contacted Wichita and restoration expert Pam Van Landingham to come to Peabody to see the painting and evaluate it.

“She was excited by the painting and the shape it was in,” Charles said. “We came to an agreement and then set about finding a contractor to do the construction work. We wanted the painting out of the way during construction so she has had us on her time table for a couple of years, waiting to get started.”

Saturday morning Charles, his wife Brenda, and three volunteers began the process of removing the painting from the library and sending it to Van Landingham’s studio.

Caleb Charles, Andrew Wedel, and Greg Witt discussed the logistics of cutting the wires that held the painting to hooks embedded in the old plaster walls. Witt climbed to the top of a short wall joined to a fake ceiling above the stairs and braced the painting while Rodger Charles clipped the wires on the side closest to the main floor of the library and Wedel and Caleb Charles steadied the painting from below. Witt then cut the wires on his side.

When the painting was free, the men realized it was quite a bit lighter than they anticipated and moved it easily to an empty area to begin wrapping it for shipping.

They all wore cotton gloves to prevent transfer of body fluids. Charles had purchased a king sized sheet to cover the front and two large tarps to wrap the painting front and back. All the wrapping was secured with duct tape.

The young men carried it out the front door to a borrowed cargo truck. Two sturdy air mattresses were laid on the floor, covered with blankets, and the painting lay on top. The whole package was secured with cord and tied to the sides of the truck to keep it from shifting.

“It was a white-knuckle trip down to the studio,” Charles said. “But everything went OK and when we got it unwrapped it looked just like it did in Peabody.”

Charles said construction will begin Sept. 6and restrooms will be out of commission that first week. The library will close completely between Sept. 13 and 17 and stay closed until the lift is installed. The contractor’s bid guaranteed the job would be complete 90 days from the beginning on Sept. 6.

The removal of the painting and its subsequent restoration were timed to coincide with the installation of the ADA restrooms and lift.

However, the mystery behind it and the artist who painted it is no closer to being solved. There was nothing on the back of the painting to give a hint. The old newspaper archives make no mention of Logan or his gift to the library. Contacts made with family members of the men listed in the painting have turned up no stories about its existence.

By 2017, it will be installed once again in Peabody Township Library, restored, preserved, and ready for another 100 years, but still with no story to explain it’s beginning.

Last modified Sept. 1, 2016