by Christopher Hodapp
The Sphinx Shrine temple in Connecticut is the latest victim of statue vandalism this week.
Twice before in recent months, area malcontents attempted to unbolt and topple the iconic 'Editorial Without Words' sculpture in front of the Shriners' temple in Newington, but their prior efforts apparently failed to generate satisfactory attention. So, sometime before last Saturday, they returned and beheaded the statue. This time, the New Britain Herald picked up the story and interviewed Potentate Richard White, Past Potentate John Taylor, and Past First Lady Lisbeth Mindera Herbert about the incident.
According to the headline, the damage is 'irreparable.'
The statue is a common decoration seen in front of Shrine temples throughout North America. It is a widely recognized representation of Shriners International's ongoing mission of providing orthopedic and burn care to children in their 22 hospitals.
The sculpture is modeled after a famous 1970 photograph of Shriner Al Hortman taken in Evansville, Indiana at a Shrine picnic. Local photographer Randy Dieter had been on assignment covering Hadi Temple’s annual outing for handicapped children. Hortman stopped to pick up a disabled girl named Bobbi Jo Wright and her crutches when Dieter spotted them almost by accident and snapped the photo. The older girl in the photo is Hortman’s daughter, Laura, who was a patient at the Shriners Hospital in St. Louis. It was after Laura began receiving treatments at the Shriners Hospitals for Children that Al Hortman had joined Hadi Shrine.
Since then, the image has been reproduced countless times, as a logo, in advertising, on jewelry, and as a sculpture, which was first created to stand in front of the Shriners International headquarters in Tampa. It's referred to by the unusual title 'Editorial Without Words' because the image immediately and wordlessly portrays the Shriners and their principal charity.
Shriners Hospitals for Children provide specialized pediatric care in orthopaedics, spinal cord injury, cleft palate and other conditions. Over 1.4 million children have received treatment since 1922. Shriners Hospitals provide all care without financial obligation to patients or their families.
While all Shriners are Freemasons, not all Masons choose to become Shriners. In addition to the Shriners meeting at the Sphinx Temple, it is also home to the Scottish Rite Valley of Hartford.
By the way, the Sphinx Shriners have the distinction of being home to the oldest established Shrine band in the country, originally formed in 1899.
I'm told by several Shriners in other states that this attack on the Connecticut Shriners' statue has not been the only one this year. In the statue-toppling frenzy of the past several months, it seems that petty miscreants have damaged several of these around the country. It's not as though the statue of a Shriner in a fez carrying a handicapped child is any sort of symbol of 'oppression' or worthy of some sort of historical revisionist scorn. But perhaps these have been tied to the latest Internet fantasies of Masonic conspiracies and assorted Qanon chatter about Satanic child traffickers. Or perhaps tied to beheadings of Christian and Western statuary (and people) in Europe by Islamic extremists in the last few weeks. Or maybe just basement-dwelling pseudo-insurrectionaries excited by the execrable Popular Mechanics' 'How To Topple A Statue' article over the summer that contributed to rampant damage nationwide.
Or more likely, just bored, ignorant teenagers with too much time on their hands during the national shut downs. I suppose we'll never know. But in the ongoing mania to tear down people, institutions, beliefs and nobility, it sure would be a pleasant switch if some of these cretinous delinquents tried building something admirable in their place.