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Landmark statues take a hit in ice storm

MAYFIELD — Col. Henry Wooldridge spent more than a century surrounded by his family. It took a tree felled by an ice storm to break them up.

The Wooldridge monuments — a collection of 18 statues at Maplewood Cemetery surrounding the colonel's grave in Mayfield — were damaged when a large tree toppled during the Jan. 27 ice storm, knocking heads and other parts off the structures that were a tourist attraction in the small Western Kentucky town.

Officials from the city and Graves County are trying to decide how to reunite the Wooldridge clan and restore the curiosity to its pre-storm status.

"We don't have a river, and we don't have a lake," Sheriff John Davis said. "We don't have built-in tourist attractions. The Wooldridge monuments are the closest thing we have."

Wooldridge ordered the life-size monuments erected to commemorate himself and his family in the late 1800s. The figures are two statues of Wooldridge: one on his horse, Fop, and one standing beside a lectern; his mother; his four brothers; his three sisters; his two favorite great-nieces; his two favorite hounds, Tow-Head and Bob; a deer; a fox; Wooldridge's sarcophagus; and a memorial pillar commemorating the family.

Wooldridge died in 1899 and is the only person buried in the plot. He never married. Now, the monuments are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and have been featured in books and once on the television show Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Only the statues of his sisters and a hound remain standing. The rest tumbled off their pedestals, some falling outside the wrought iron fence surrounding the plot. Several of the heads are lined up in a clerk's office at City Hall.

Where tourists used to take pictures, yellow caution tape now surrounds the massive tree trunk that felled the monuments.

Mayfield Mayor Arthur Byrn said city workers have carefully trimmed trees and removed dead branches from around the monuments for years. But the tree that fell was healthy, he said.

"They've weathered storms, but I guess this was kind of the mother of all storms," Byrn said.

The Kentucky League of Cities insures the cemetery, but the policy does not mention the monuments specifically, the mayor said, so he is not sure whether the policy will cover any refurbishment costs.

"Our first huge problem is even getting the tree off them," he said. "The trunk is so mammoth that we don't know what kind of equipment we will have to use to get it out of there."

Several groups have expressed interest in raising funds to restore the monuments, but city officials are waiting to hear from the insurance carrier and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Byrn said.

"It's heartbreaking," he said. "There are so many things that happened in the storm that are tragic, but this, when you look at it, is the very definition of tragic."