'Maid of the Mist' mystery solved

Two mysteries solved. One more to go. Tom Ott, a former superintendent of the Sandusky Greenhouse, shed light this week on previously unknown history of the recently rediscovered "Maid of the Mist" statue. Ott also explained what happened to the statue's sister.
Jason Singer
May 23, 2010

Two mysteries solved. One more to go.

Tom Ott, a former superintendent of the Sandusky Greenhouse, shed light this week on previously unknown history of the recently rediscovered "Maid of the Mist" statue.

Ott also explained what happened to the statue's sister.

He said the rediscovered statue, known as Gretchen, lost her right arm and right leg when a vandal attacked her with a steel pipe in the early 1970s.

Ott, who began working for the city in 1971, said he found the battered maiden at the Sunken Garden outside the Erie County Courthouse shortly after he began working for the city.

"They just beat the hell out of her," he said. "Some parts were beat up so bad they were just crumbs."

Earlier this year, city commissioner David Waddington recently learned the "Maid of the Mist," a statue of a young, partially-clothed maiden, was in storage at the Sandusky Greenhouse.

According to "From the Widow's Walk: A View of Sandusky," a book by Helen Hansen and Virginia Steinemann, two "Maids of the Mist" including Gretchen, originally stood beside the Boy and the Boot in the 1890s and early 20th century.

But in the 1920s, a tornado severely damaged the park. During that decade, the city also decided to remove the "Maids of the Mist" from public view because of complaints about indecency.

According to a 1959 Register article, "guardians of public virtue" found the statues, which are mostly unclothed, to be "corruption for the youth of Sandusky."

So when the city re-installed the Boy and the Boot at Washington Park in 1935, the maidens didn't join him. At some point, however, the city reinstalled Gretchen in the Sunken Garden.

City officials and greenhouse workers said earlier this month they hoped to find the second "Maid of the Mist" statue, and hoped citizens could provide them with clues to its whereabouts.

But Ott said the tornado destroyed the second statue beyond repair, and it's likely lost forever.

"They're going to have a tough time finding it," he said. "When the tornado came through, it destroyed the other Maid of the Mist and both dolphins. ... It never surfaced. I think they probably just threw out what was left."

Waddington and Dick Gallagher, a Sandusky Greenhouse volunteer, said they will soon display Gretchen at the greenhouse. They'll lay it horizontally -- missing limbs and all -- with a plaque explaining its history, as well as some old photos.

Gallagher said he might also contact the Toledo Area Sculptors Guild for advice on how to preserve and possibly repair it. Either way, Waddington said they will display it.

"It's a part of our history," he said. "I think it's pretty neat, and I think others will too."

The greenhouse also has a large black shaggy dog statue, seemingly made from iron, which has questions about its history.

The city received the dog when George Matthes, a local coal magnate, willed it to the city in the 1970s or 1980s.

Several greenhouse employees said they believe the dog was created from melted down Civil War cannonball, and representatives from the Smithsonian Institute or Smithsonian Magazine came to analyze the dog in the 1990s.

But the greenhouse workers are still trying to verify that story, said Nanette Guss, a greenhouse volunteer.

Said Tom Speir, the greenhouse foreman: "We've got a couple of mysteries on our hands."