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A & E
Places: Statue plan for Seaman brings mirth and support

Thursday, November 29, 2001

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Architecture Critic

"A statue of a dog? Aren't you embarrassed by that one?

"Maybe we should turn the whole Lewis and Clark expedition into a Disney animated feature with Seaman the Dog leading the way to the Pacific. Yeah, and there could be an evil Indian Chief, too. And a talking parrot."

So wrote Pittsburgh ex-pat Mike Donnelly from Robbinsville, N.J., one of a dozen people responding via e-mail to my column last week suggesting Western Pennsylvania consider commissioning a statue of Seaman to mark the centennial of the expedition beginning in 2003.

"Maybe we should build a statue for Beavey the Beaver ... you know, the one who helped the French build Fort Duquesne," Donnelly went on. "Or maybe a statue for 'Rivet,' the steel bolt who helped connect the Sixth Street Bridge. I know, I know, how about a huge statue made out of Play-Doh for the Monongahela Mole -- you know, the one who hollowed out the Liberty Tubes. The kids will LOVE that one."

Your e-mail still brings a :-) to my face, Mike. But a Seaman statue shouldn't have to be cute, commercial and dumbed-down to draw children into America's greatest adventure story.

"I think it is a fabulous idea," wrote Daniel Rohlf, law professor at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore. "Most people don't know about this dog and his role in history, but everyone I tell is always very interested to learn about him. I recently read my kids a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition written with an emphasis on Seaman, and they absolutely loved it. Making history fun is a way to make it come alive today. Good luck!"

Two children's books about Seaman were published in 1999, each inventing a different mythology for how he and Meriwether Lewis met.

"It was the keelboat that had brought Captain Lewis and me together. At the time we met, I was living with a man named Brady on a dilapidated barge moored at the Pittsburgh wharf," writes Roland Smith in "The Captain's Dog."

In Gail Langer Karwoski's "Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West With Lewis & Clark," Lewis, who's hunting ducks "just at the point where two rivers flow together to form the Ohio River," meets up with a man named James Hanson, who's accompanied by his dog. Hanson orders the dog to retrieve from the river the duck Lewis shot and lay it at Lewis' feet. The duck wasn't marred by Seaman's big, soft mouth.

"I think a statue of [Seaman] would be an absolutely wonderful way to celebrate our connection with this amazing part of American history," writes Lynn Portnoff of Oakland. "My kids are a little too old to clamor aboard a statue, but with the right timing, maybe grandkids could enjoy it and ask the right questions to hear the story of Lewis and Clark."

"I'd take it a paw print further," writes Terry Necciai of Squirrel Hill. "Say, put one dog statue along a pristine section of riverfront in every state that the Lewis and Clark crew passed through ... Instead of the "Madonna of the Trail" you could call it "A Dog of an Expedition."

For the uninitiated, in the 1920s the Daughters of the American Revolution commissioned a dozen "Madonna of the Trail" monuments commemorating the spirit of the woman pioneer along early American roads, including one on Route 40 near Beallsville, Washington County.

"Why not put the statue in Elizabeth itself," where two keelboats for the expedition were built, writes Sue Kerr of Wilkins Township.

"Maybe on the revitalized Mon Wharf or at least at Point State Park where it can overlook the Mon," writes R.J. Sule of Cranberry. "Indeed, the statue has to be as large as the Chief at Heinz Field so the kids can play on him."

Actually, I was thinking life-size so the kids can play on him. Newfoundlands already are larger-than-life dogs, with males standing, on average, 28 inches at the shoulder and weighing about 150 pounds.

But they can get a lot bigger. Tom and Julie McKenzie of Raccoon, Beaver County, are the owners of two Newfs, 130-pound Holly and 180-pound Solly. Tom is a member of the board of directors of the Penn-Ohio Newfoundland Club, which may be interested in playing a role in making the statue a reality. "We have many members that love a challenge!" he writes.

Thanks to all for the feedback.


Patricia Lowry is the Post-Gazette architecture critic. Her e-mail address is plowry@post-gazette.com.

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