The John Doe Statue

I think it was Winnie the Pooh who said that nudity, once familiar, loses its impact. A bridegroom who cheers and claps as his bride undresses will, in a few years, gaze upon his naked spouse with the same passion he would look at a toaster. And in Sycamore Shadows, even those who avert their eyes from provocative mannequins at Mayapple Clothing will glance at the John Doe statue in Marsuoin Park with indifference.

Mayor Malcolm McDowell purchased the statue at an estate auction, though he could never explain why. Perhaps the mayor was the victim of a temporary insanity similar to falling in love, though with less serious repercussions.

Most of the town attended the unveiling ceremony. They cheered when the truck arrived. They cheered as the crane operator carefully lowered the statue into place. They cheered while Mayor McDowell said a few appropriate words of dedication. They cheered after Minister Fletcher finished his prayer and they cheered as the tarpaulin fell from the statue.

It is uncertain how many women actually fainted. Wilson Hahn, in attendance that day, puts the number at seven and says that all pipe tobacco in his shop is on sale through the end of the month. Sammy Blue recalls several ladies holding hands and singing hymns. Nippy Keene says he was laughing too hard to notice the reaction of anyone else. Happy Fohl remembers two spinsters standing close to the pedestal, looking up at the statue with intense concentration, one of them saying, “Ethel, we really must go to an art museum.” But most people stood in stunned silence. One of the more amusing moments in town history, the unveiling was McDowell’s last official act as mayor. Eli Chibble defeated him in a landslide victory two weeks later. Soon after the election, a humiliated and dejected McDowell moved to a farm in Kentucky, where he bred goldfish until dying of a broken heart in 1996.

John Doe remains proudly atop his pedestal, a tricorn hat on his head, his eyes fixed on the horizon, his left hand on his hip, his right hand grasping the handle of a butter churn. As he only wears two articles of clothing, readers will have imagination enough to add details between the hat and the shoes according to their preferences.

Many people, myself included, believe that the statue represents a soldier at Valley Forge. Perhaps the sculptor, reading Washington’s moving account of the “naked” Continental Army, did not know that the eighteenth-century usage of the word meant “insufficiently clothed.” The butter churn is more problematic, as I cannot locate any account of soldiers making butter at Valley Forge, even if it would have added much-needed flavor to their shoe leather.

In 2007, the Sons of the Battle of Little Rindle purchased a plaque for the base. It reads thus:

To the John Doe of the American Revolution

Who, despite being cold and naked

Selflessly churned butter for all mankind

at Valley Forge, 1777.

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