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Published: Thursday, 7/17/2008

Ohio park, 'Mount Rushmore of folk art,' collection of statues to be auctioned


FRAZEYSBURG, Ohio A man who owns a hillside park with giant sandstone sculptures of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and other famous Americans said he's selling the property so the artwork can be better preserved.

The sculptures in Baughman Memorial Park need to be restored and repainted, said Kevin Morehouse, 35, who bought the park for $310,000 in February. A statue of Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman is missing its head, and other statues show varying degrees of wear and tear, he said.

Morehouse, who owns a logging company, said he bought the park to serve as his family's private retreat but soon realized he had no idea how to care for it.

The park, its sculptures and oil and gas rights are all scheduled to be auctioned by Russ Kiko Associates Inc. Auctioneers in Canton on Saturday.

Duff Lindsay, a Columbus gallery owner who specializes in folk art, said it's hard to determine what the statues might be worth at auction. Taking them out of their environment might lessen their value, he said.

Local undertaker Daniel Brice Baughman carved the statues of Ulysses Grant and others between 1898 and around 1930 on land that was once a stone quarry. He started with William McKinley, a former governor of Ohio who was elected president in 1896. The collection also includes the likenesses of George Washington, Sherman, Warren Harding, James Garfield and a World War I doughboy.

From the 1920s through the 1940s, the 62-acre Baughman Memorial Park, about 60 miles east of Columbus, was a destination for families from across Ohio who flocked to see the larger-than-life stone sculptures.

Some locals and historians are upset that the statues will be auctioned separately.

"It's the Mount Rushmore of folk art," said Aaron Keirns, who wrote a book about the carvings and Baughman. "To split it up would be a tragedy."

Baughman also created bas-relief images in rock formations that honored the Republican Party, as well as various animals and a depiction of a stereotypical American Indian chieftain.

The park was dedicated by the state in 1931. Baughman died in 1957, and the property eventually served as a campground and a religious retreat for troubled teens. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Dave Longaberger, founder of Newark-based Longaberger Co., the nation's largest handmade basket-maker, bought the park in 1996. His family sold it to Morehouse.

Morehouse said he looked into whether the Ohio Historical Society, which is dealing with a shrinking budget, or another state entity would take on the park's preservation. He also considered opening it to the public, but finding someone to operate the place and keep it open year-round was too much of a challenge, he said.

When art like the Baughman statues are preserved, it's usually because volunteers do the work and a large foundation picks up the tab, said Michael Hall of the Columbus Museum of Art.

"It's not just the costs, but the commitment," he said. "Who's going to saddle themselves with the responsibility of the upkeep?"

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