WEST LIBERTY — An 80-year-old icon of downtown West Liberty was returned to its watchful duties Saturday in front of the old Morgan County Courthouse after a two-year absence.
The World War I doughboy statue, blown off its pedestal in the March 3, 2012 tornado that destroyed most of West Liberty, was raised back in place Saturday after a painstaking rebuild by two Morehead artists.
During Saturday’s unveiling ceremony, Morgan County author and historian Lynn Nickell told a crowd of about 200 that when he first saw the broken pieces on a floor, “I had to take my hat off. He looked like he was lying in streaks of blood.”
The statue, made of marble, was installed in 1927, according to Nickell. At the time, Morgan County was one of hundreds of county courthouses throughout the country seeking statues to commemorate World War I.
For 85 years the statue stood as sentinel on the courthouse lawn.
After seeing photographs of the statue in pieces, Morehead artists Eddie Horton and Stephen Tirone, both veterans of the Vietnam War, decided to bring it to Tirone’s carving studio in Clearfield, just outside of Morehead. The two worked for a year painstakingly cleaning each piece, and recreating lost pieces, until they had “him” in shape to stand again on the pedestal in West Liberty.
Tirone called the work a labor of love, but for Horton the statue meant much more. Originally from Danville, he returned from Vietnam in the early 1970s and enrolled at Morehead State under the GI Bill. His goal was to become a sculptor.
In 1972, Horton and an artist friend visited West Liberty during one of the first Sorghum Festivals. Horton recalled the friend drawing a portrait as he sat still, staring at the statue. “Odd that all these year later, we’ve come full circle.”