Sam's Monuments Falling


This article appeared in the Journal Herald Modern Living section on July 8, 1972

Sam’s monuments falling
‘They’re just one man’s work’

 

By Billie Bledsoe
Journal Herald Special Writer
 

     The monuments Sam Gingrich built have stood for 60 years.

     They could stand for another 60 if it weren’t for “progress.”

     Gingrich died in 1952. But a few neighbors, and several yellowing newspaper clippings, tell the little that is known of the history of Gingrich’s “Garden of Odds and Ends,” at 7940 N. Main St. in Harrison Township. (The garden was actually located in Randolph Township - Curt Dalton, DHBO editor)

     Gingrich, according to a 1938 news story about his monuments, was a Hamilton-born machinist, who worked in several Dayton factories and opened a nursery and garden ornament business when he retired.

     His museum of monuments, located on what was then a small farm, was a hobby that grew out of those interests. Between 1912 and 1952, he built dozens of monuments on the property – plaques, a memorial to the Wright brothers, fountains, fish ponds, lodges, sculptures and tribute in stone to God and trees.

     He embedded personal mementos, such as a bit of rock from Pike’s Peak, and a button from the Gettysburg battlefield, into the works. Some of the monuments contained quotations spelled out in chips of stone.

     About half a dozen of the monuments remain now – scattered about a heavily-weeded lot. Most have been knocked over and removed through the years. (The property changed hands several times after Gingrich’s death). The largest remaining stonework is a small stone gatehouse. A globe, uprooted from its original spot, leans against another slab.

     Until about a year ago, the Gingrich monuments still attracted attention to the property. But, a rezoning battle has now shifted attention to the ground the monuments stand on.

     The lot is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Vinard A. Stidham. Stidham says he bought the land for investment purposes.

     An excavator by trade, Stidham has already torn down many of Gingrich’s memorials.

     “I tried to give the one that is a tribute to the Wright brothers to Carrillon Park. They didn’t want it unless I would move it there for them . . . and it was just too heavy,” says Stidham.

     When Stidham bought the property, it was zoned for business. He says he felt guilty about tearing down several dozen statues, monuments and park benches.

     “But they’re of no historical value really. “They’re just one man’s work, and no one wants them. I can’t give them away.”

     Stidham’s property was recently rezoned and only apartments can now be built there.

     B. E. Clark, Montgomery County planning director, says that the zoning change was “based on the most compatible use of the land. There are apartments contiguous to it on the south and single family dwellings contiguous to it on the north.”

     Stidham admit he feels bitter about the change, and wonders if the monuments weren’t responsible for the zoning board’s decision.

     According to members of the zoning board, the monuments were not involved in the decision. However, board member Lawrence Kummeth admits: “The things are fascinating, and I would certainly have to have them torn down.”

     Kummeth tried to interest the Montgomery County Historical Society in taking the creations, but had no success.

     “I’ve taken lots of people out to see them,” Kummeth states. “I think they’re one of the most interesting sights in Dayton. That man devoted a fantastic amount of time to these things.”

     Over the years, vandals have removed anything of value; sometimes, in their haste, tearing away the rocks and shells that spell out thoughts in poetry and prose.

     Gingrich’s largest monument was dedicated to the trees.

     The gatehouse that he erected bears many inscriptions, one of which says simply “The trees were God’s first temples.”

     Another monument bears the inscription:

          “It’s that insatiable

          Love for trees that

          Impels me to plant

          That the coming and going

          Generations may admire.”

     A large arch which Gingrich did entirely by hand has long since been gone, and according to Stidham, despite the protests of some neighbors and Kummeth, the rest of the monuments will be torn down soon.
     “After all, I’m an excavator, and it doesn’t cost me anything to tear them down,” says Stidham.

     He adds:

     “I bought that property for an investment some time ago. I’m going to fight the zoning board on their decision. I just want to make money from my land.”

     Overgrown by weeds, the monuments that Sam Gingrich worked on for 40 years will soon be gone. Time and progress apparently mean destruction for the elaborate works.

     When Gingrich built his gate house, he composed a poem which he etched on the wall with colored pebbles and pieces of glass. It reads:

          The Challenge

     “Old Man, cried a fellow passing near,

     You are wasting your strength by building here

     Your journey will end with the ending day

     And you’ll never again pass by this way.”

          The Answer

     “There followeth after me today,

     A youth whose feet will pass this way,

     He has not neared the twilight’s dim,

     Good friends, I do all this for him.”