By Sara Clifford | For the Daily Journal
STONE HEAD — It’s been a year since a beloved landmark was smashed and stolen from the place it had stood for more than 100 years.
But still, they come — locals and tourists, taking pictures and leaving trinkets at what’s left of Stone Head.
Mike Kelley has been overseeing the 165-year-old landmark since he bought the House at Stone Head in 2002.
The house, built in 1891, and the stone statue, carved 40 years earlier, have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984. Kelley can’t count how many people he’s seen pull up, snap a picture and move on, repeating a ritual they may have done for years, or a family member did before them.
On or about Nov. 6, 2016, someone smashed Stone Head and carted the head away. Only the base still stands.
On Oct. 21, a new piece joined the remains of the original, off to the side. It reads as if it were a gravestone: Stone Head, 1851-2016, carved by Henry Cross.
“There it is,” said the carver of this piece, Casey Winningham, after hoisting it up with a pulley system and an assistant, Monica Galvan.
“We should be good for another couple hundred years.”
There was no ceremony, no fanfare, just some looks from curious drivers pausing at the stop signs at Bellsville Pike and State Road 135.
Then, Winningham and Galvan guarded it for the next six hours while the epoxy dried to the base, and Winningham finished carving his signature, small in the back.
Earlier this fall, Kelley thought he might have had a lead on where Stone Head was.
Van Buren Township historian Bill Miller had been contacted by a former high school classmate of his, and she’d sworn that she and her husband had seen the head while trying to find a parking spot in the back streets of Bloomington during the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival.
The couple took a photo of it sitting on the porch of a home. They looked up a picture of Stone Head when they got back and that confirmed their suspicion, Kelley said.
“She said I needed to either confront the homeowners, call police, or steal it back myself,” he said.
Kelley asked her to send him a copy of the photo they’d snapped, and it confirmed his suspicion: This wasn’t it.
Still, Kelley and his wife drove to the address the woman had given and took a closer look and a closer photo.
Over the summer, there was a rumor going around that the head had been found, smashed, in Bedford. But when contacted by the Times-Mail newspaper in early July, neither the town police nor the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department knew anything about it.
Brown County Sheriff Scott Southerland said last month that they aren’t any closer to finding Stone Head.
“I don’t recall any leads that were close to promising,” he said.
“I wish I had more.”
Winningham got into carving as a way to memorialize people whose graves were unmarked. Such work has a way of connecting him to that person’s life.
The Brown County Art Gallery commissioned him to do this marker to memorialize Stone Head and its carver, who was the preeminent maker of gravestones in the Brown-Bartholomew county area in the 19th century.
Cross died in 1864 at the age of 42 in a tree-cutting accident on his own property. He’s buried in Mellott Cemetery, across Poplar Grove Road from the land where he lived and worked, and alongside several of his relatives for whom he carved elaborate grave markers.
Mellott is one of several cemeteries where Cross-carved works can be found in Van Buren Township. The Brown County Historical Society recently published a driving tour pamphlet to draw more attention to these pieces of early Brown County art; and the Brown County Art Gallery Foundation staged a series of events in September to fund the carving of this new Stone Head memorial.
Winningham has photographed more than 5,000 headstones, and he studied that collection to get the details on this Cross homage just right, right down to the unique style of lettering.
He’d been looking for years for the exact font Cross used, but couldn’t find it, so he used his photograph collection to create a Cross alphabet: “When I needed an ‘S,’ I would look at about three or four examples of his Ss, and say, ‘Aha, they’re all the same; that’s how Henry made his Ss,’” Winningham said.
Every mark on the new piece Winningham made with a 19th century chisel and mallet — except for the marks that Cross had made himself.
The piece of sandstone that Winningham used for the Cross memorial, Cross had begun shaping for use as a foundation stone, likely for his house, and left it behind in the quarry, Winningham said.
“We got the stone from the same hole in the ground Henry got the stone to make all of his (grave)stones and Stone Head, so it’s perfectly appropriate,” Winningham said, running his hands over the edges where tiny, old chisel marks can be seen.
“It’s an exceptionally rare fine-grained sandstone. It’s not typical Brown County sandstone.”
On the memorial, Winningham chose to use designs found on other Cross works, including a snake-like border at the top and a pulled-drape detail in the middle, which frames an image of what Stone Head looked like when Cross first carved it — before it was shot at, stolen and damaged in the ‘70s, and before the head was painted black and white.
In the image on the new sculpture, he even carved the tiny lettering still visible on the original, showing directions to places past this spot in the road. “That was the last thing I did, because I kept putting it off,” Winningham said, with a smile.
“It’s kind of cool to rediscover things that you don’t really notice when you’re just looking at it,” he said.
“Come back tomorrow when the sun’s shining, and before 11 o’clock. It’ll look like a million dollars.”