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Steele Lion

This article was part of the WPA writer’s project in the 1930s. The author is unknown.

 Steele Lion


     The Steele Lion, regarded as a magnificent, if early, work of Anna Vaughan Hyatt, famous animal sculptor, is located on the lawn of Steele High School, SE corner of Main and Monument ave.

     It is an outgrowth of the efforts and generosity of the Decorative Art Association of the school, organized in 1899 to adorn the building with pictures, busts and statues. It is also the realization of the dream of Leonard Fox, one of the boys on the working committee of the association, who yearned for a lion to add to the decorative features and could not be talked out of the idea by the teacher members of the committee.

     Largely as a result of the search made by Fox, a plaster-of-Paris lion was purchased from the Buffalo Exposition after it closed in the fall of 1901. The cost of the plaster figure, crating, shipping and freight charges, as well as the wooden pedestal to set it on, was only $141, an appealing figure considering the limited treasury of the Decorative Art Association.

     Fox, and the other students to whom his enthusiasm had been communicated, were very happy when the lion arrived. But their ardor was slightly dampened when it was discovered that the lion was too heavy for the floor of the school building to support and that it must be placed outside.

     The plaster lion looked very brave and fierce when he was put on his wooden pedestal and properly dedicated in 1902. But, alas, he proved only a fair-weather king of beasts. By 1904, the cold, the rain, the snow and sudden changes had done their worst to him and he became little more than a heap of broken pieces.

     The Decorative Art Association went to work immediately to find his successor. This required much time; and it was not until Miss Annie Campbell, then art instructor of Steele, found the model she sought at an exhibition at the Fine Arts Building, New York, and sent a photograph to Dayton, that the members of the Decorative Art Association were satisfied that their search was ended. Miss Campbell recognized the small model as a masterpiece and the school applauded her choice.

     Miss Campbell did not know the creator, Anna Vaughan Hyatt, now Mrs. Archer E. Huntington, who has since become famous as America’s finest sculptor of animals. She wrote to her, nevertheless, informed her of the wishes of the school, and received the sort of reply that thrilled the school and set everybody, including teachers and pupils, to work.

     For Miss Hyatt agreed to model another lion in a heroic size for the bare cost of materials and a studio large enough for the work. Her costs came to only $300. So her fine creation was really a gift to the school.

     As a result of the campaign conducted by the Decorative Art Association, and the gifts of a few generous citizens, the sum of $1,200 was raised. This amount was sufficient for Miss Hyatt’s expenses, the cost of having the figure cast in bronze in Italy and the purchase of a stone pedestal.

     Leo was unveiled and dedicated with appropriate exercises Dec. 11, 1908. The ceremonies were held partly in the school auditorium, partly on the school lawn. The sculptor herself was present and made a brief address. Other speakers were the late Prof. William Werthner, president of the Decorative Art Association; the late Oscar Needham, president of the Board of Education and the late Mayor Edward E. Burkhart, who received the lion on behalf of the city.

     All the pupils and teachers were gaily bedecked in the school colors of red and black and everything was attuned to a gala note.

     Within the interior of the lion was placed a copper box containing the names of all the contributors and workers, a new Lincoln penny just created by the Mint, a brief article on Miss Hyatt, another on Mr. Werthner, and a list of the various committees of the Decorative Art Association.

     When the disastrous flood of 1913 inundated Dayton, a beam knocked the lion off his pedestal, and, as a result, he lost his tail and his copper box. A campaign for funds for repairing him and restoring him to his lofty position was happily finished just before the school closed for the Christmas vacation the following December. Re-dedication exercises were conducted Oct. 8, 1914. Today the lion is still standing on his perch, better and stronger than ever and revealing scarcely a scar.