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Nature Notes From Crater Lake

Volume 21, 1955

 

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The "Lady of the Woods" Revisited
By Richard M. Brown, Assistant Park Naturalist

Clink! Clink! Clink! Metallic lappings penetrated the usually quiet forest of hemlocks on the slope of Mt. Mazama. This day, the 19th of October, 1917, would be the last to hear the sounds drifting out through the trees from this particular source. For many days, beginning on the 4th of that same month, these trees had attended this unaccustomed industry by man here on the side of the mountain. More responsive audience, especially of the human sort, was scant. Few heard and even fewer sought out the alien sound. But now the final blow had been struck; natural tranquillity would soon return to the hemlocks.

Evidence of man's passing would remain, however, through the years and decades in this lonely spot within the forest. For here would rest alone the figure of a woman, patiently chiseled forth from the side of a great boulder lodged among the trees. Incomplete, she reclines relaxed against the volcanic rock as though she were a sleeping beauty awaiting the day when her creator would arrive to bring her to full realization. She would have a long wait for the craftsman's return, and even then she would not receive the finishing touch of his hand.


The Lady of the Woods
8 August 1954
Photo by C. Warren Fairbanks

The story of the "Lady of the Woods" has now been told many times -- too often to be repeated here in much detail. The interested reader is encouraged to look further into the various accounts relating to this fascinating episode of local history. All of those mentioned here may be found in the library at Crater Lake National Park, home of the "Lady of the Woods."

Dr. Earl Russell Bush, official surgeon for the U. S. Engineers in 1917, was stationed in Crater Lake National Park during the summer of that year. The pressure of his duties had lessened considerably toward the end of the season. Seeking some manner in which he could occupy his free moments productively and, at the same time, express the feelings of love and inspiration which the lake and surrounding country had aroused in him, the concept of a sculptured figure occurred to him. Such a figure would be a symbol of the park's wilderness and little-noticed richness of life -- its fecundity, as Dr. Bush has so frequently expressed it.

After wandering through the forest and finding at some distance from the main camp a rock that suited his desires, Dr. Bush persuaded the blacksmith, William Ivy, to make an appropriate set of tools. The work began on October 4. Progress was slow, especially because of the hardness of the rock. Fortunately, with his background as a doctor, he was not discouraged by the lack of a model. Unfortunately, winter and its hazards are here very much at hand this late in the year; little time remained for carrying out this project. Then came the day of departure, October 19, the figure still lying incomplete against the surface of the boulder.

Dr. Bush had continued his carving for about a week without notice by other members of the staff. Feeling a sense of slight embarrassment about this undertaking, he had mentioned to no one the purpose of his visits into the woods. However, curiosity and the persistent tapping of hammer and chisel eventually led a few to seek out the site of this activity. Although he was reassured by the praises which came forth upon their viewing the results of his efforts, Dr. Bush pledged them to secrecy. Mr. Alex Sparrow, Superintendent, was alone granted permission to let Mr. William G. Steel, U. S. Commissioner, know about it the following summer. Thus, in 1918, Mr. Sparrow covered the stone chips with pine needles and took Mr. Steel to see it, pretending that he had discovered some Indian carvings which Mr. Steel didn't know about. "The old gentleman, an authority on the Klamath tribe, was not to be fooled. Said he, 'In the first place it isn't an Indian woman for she has too long legs; in the second, the concept is not Indian but rather classical.' Told the truth he joined the others in secrecy but wrote to me for details." (Bush, 1953).

This secret was well guarded by all who shared it. Mr. Steel was U. S. Commissioner for the park until 1934, and Mr. Sparrow was Superintendent until 1923, but it was not by either of them that the secret was finally revealed.

The discoveries of the "Lady of the Woods" which were made during the following years provided several remarkable speculations as to how the figure had been created and, for those who did recognize it as a work of man, some extraordinary tales in respect to the motivation of the sculptor. Some of the newspaper articles in the Steel scrapbook collection in the park library today make almost incredible reading. The first of these discoveries, by workmen in the park in 1919, produced speculations that this was an effigy or petrifaction which might be older than the mummies of Egypt and New Mexico and would merit investigation by scholars (Anonymous, 191 9a, 1919b)! Some have thought it to be a natural formation. One legend, which gained rather wide circulation in various versions, explains the carving as a response to the loss of a loved one (Willson, 1923).

The true origin of the "Lady of the Woods" was first revealed to the general public two years later, in August, 1921, following the appearance of an article by Anne Shannon Monroe (1921). This account stimulated Mr. F. E. Miller, of Portland, Oregon, to make it known that the figure was carved by Dr. Bush (Anonymous, 1921a). The same information appeared in several places shortly afterward (Anonymous, 1921b, 1921c). The story was soon verified by Dr. Bush himself in a letter to Anne Shannon Monroe (Anonymous, 1921d) and was made available a year later in more permanent form by the Mazamas (Monroe, 1922).

Word concerning the "Lady of the Woods" seems not to have traveled very far during the years immediately following the first revelation of its creator. There appeared in 1923 a lengthy article which, on the basis of an expedition to study the figure, included new speculations concerning its origin (Willson, 1923). Among other suggestions, it was put forth by Samuel Hubbard, then curator of archaeology at the Oakland museum, that this might be the cast of an actual woman who had been engulfed by a flow of volcanic mud which poured down the sides of Mt. Mazama. He reasoned that the mud would not have been hot enough to destroy the body and would have solidified quickly. After a period of time, disintegration of the body would have left a perfect mould. A later eruption of volcanic mud was then presumed to have flowed down the mountain and into this mould, filling it completely and solidifying. Five months later the truth was set forth again (Anonymous, 1924).

Not until 1925 did Mr. Steel himself, on the basis of a letter to him from Dr. Bush, publish an account of the sculpturing (Steel, 1925).

By 1930, interest in the "Lady of the Woods" had increased so greatly that it had become necessary to construct a trail to it from a point near the old office building (Solinsky, 1930). Today the trail, marked by one or two simple signs, passes the south end of the Ranger Dormitory, over the creek crossed by a small bridge, and westward a few hundred feet to the site itself, also provided with a simple sign.

The origin of "Lady of the Woods" as the name for this figure remains in doubt. It seems to appear for the first time in Anne Shannon Monroe's (1921) article. Dr. Bush thinks that it may have been bestowed by Mr. Kiser, who held a photographic concession in the Park in the 1920's (Bush, 1953).

On August 8, 1953, during the brief period from noon until 2:00 p.m., I had the great good fortune of being on duty in Sinnott Memorial. During that period, I met and spoke with Mr. and Mrs. Claude Shafer, of Cincinnati, who indicated that they were personally acquainted with Dr. Bush. Later that same afternoon, I had the opportunity to conduct Mr. Shafer to the "Lady of the Woods," thus enabling him to fulfill a promise which he had made to Dr. Bush that he would visit it. Mr. Shafer was kind enough to write a brief note in our log book and, of considerably greater importance, to supply a current address for Dr. Bush.

This meeting prompted me, within the next few days, to write a letter to Dr. Bush, asking for further information concerning the "Lady of the Woods" and attempting to determine the possibility of his visiting Crater Lake. The reply which arrived within a few days greatly exceeded my hopes. This lengthy letter includes many fascinating details of Dr. Bush's stay here in 1917, many of which had not been recorded previously. To my delighted surprise, he closed with, "Hoping to have the pleasure of meeting you next year..." (Bush, 1953).

During the summer of 1954, I was much encouraged by a letter from Dr. Bush (1954a) indicating that he was then in California, planning on fulfilling his promise to visit the park and having made reservations to stay here August 6 through 8.

The long-awaited August 6 finally arrived and, at length, word came through from the South Entrance station to the effect that Dr. Bush had come into the park. Although I was not on duty that particular day, I was on hand to greet Dr. Bush. When he had not called at Park Headquarters within a reasonable period of time following his entrance into the park, I went to the Rim Village to inquire after him at the lodge. He had, indeed, registered and was staying at one of the cabins. A call at the cabin failed to produce any response. Evening arrived, and Dr. Bush was still nowhere to be found. Visits to the lodge and the Community House, just before the evening programs were to begin, also failed to locate him. The naturalists presenting the programs were encouraged to invite Dr. Bush to make himself known should he be present, which they did, but without results. It was not until the next morning, following a brief telephone conversation, that I was to meet Dr. Bush in person.

As one might have come to suspect from the foregoing, Dr. Bush proved to be a most pleasant and unassuming individual. He had brought along Mrs. Bush and their son, Newell. Having come to the Park by way of Fort Klamath, they had spent the night of August 5 in the same Fort Klamath Hotel that had received them upon their first arrival at that little town in early July, 1917.

Much of two very enjoyable and rewarding days were then spent in the doctor's company. Dr. Bush reminisced along the rim, and elsewhere, over his summer in the park and its experiences. We walked from the rim down to Park Headquarters, following the passable portions of the mile or so of road which was the main route of travel back in 1917. He pointed out, to the best of his ability in view of the years gone by and the changed scene, the locations of the various buildings of the Park Headquarters area at that time.

Highlight of the entire period came when Dr. Bush returned, after 37 years, to his "Lady of the Woods." He was rather surprised, and pleased, to see how well it had weathered the years. Pitting had marred the once smoother surface of the figure, but otherwise it was much as he had remembered it. I detected the merest hint of a feeling on his part that the development of the nearby area had not added to the original attractiveness of the spot and its aspect of remoteness. This, however, passed quickly, and Dr. Bush seemed to enjoy this reunion very much. He consented to being photographed with his "Lady of the Woods," and for this we are most grateful. Several black-and-white pictures were taken and added to the park's photographic collection, as were also a few 35 mm. color slides.


Dr. Earl Russell Bush with his Lady of the Woods
8 August 1954
Photo by C. Warren Fairbanks

Dr. Bush spoke with much modesty in respect to his sculpturing and indicated no illusions concerning its merits as a work of art. The "Lady of the Woods" was his first effort at sculpturing, which simply makes it the more remarkable. Following this beginning attempt in 1917, and after becoming settled in Cincinnati, Dr. Bush's aroused interest resulted in his taking up the study of sculpture under Clement I. Barnhorn. According to Dr. Bush, Mr. Barnhorn knew about the "Lady of the Woods" and praised it as amateur work, but he also exacted a promise from Dr. Bush that he would never touch it in an attempt to carry further his original idea. Mr. Barnhorn indicated to Dr. Bush that he had apparently been "successful in putting something into a crude outline that expressed what must have been a real inspiration. He says that the inspiration is now gone and that it was the invariable experience when artists attempted such a thing that they failed to carry out the real and worthwhile theme." (Bush, 1930). It is no doubt well that such a promise was made, even though today's regulations would not permit Dr. Bush to continue the work should he wish to do so.

Of much greater importance than the sculpturing, especially to Dr. Bush himself, are the responses which it has aroused in those who have come to see it through the years -- by chance or otherwise. This is obviously as Dr. Bush intended it, even from the time of his conception of such a response to his own inspiration. A variety of emotions has been expressed in the numerous articles which have been written by persons who were impressed with the "Lady of the Woods." In addition, several poems have been inspired by it; a few of these have appeared in print (Lumen, 1937; Mills, 1943; Williams, 1954).

Dr. Bush and his family left the park on August 9. Before his departure, he gave to the park a number of items of considerable interest and value. These include several photographs of various members of the 1917 staff, of scenes at Park Headquarters and about the rim, and of activities in the area during that summer; a Crater Lake National Park topographic map (Edition of Apr. 1911, reprinted Oct. 1913) which he had used while working here; and a Crater Lake brochure prepared by the Southern Pacific Company in 1917. We are most grateful to Dr. Bush for these contributions to our historical collections.

Dr. Bush (1954b) wrote, after returning home, that, "The memories aroused by the visit were both pleasant and vivid. Very likely I shall not get there again."

Perhaps the coming years will be kind enough to prove Dr. Bush wrong in respect to this last thought. But whether or not he is able to return to this spot again is surely not of the greatest importance. The lasting values of Dr. Bush's association with the park rest in the "Lady of the Woods." The true essence of its significance, and the best expression of the attitude with which it should be viewed, seem to me to be most simply and clearly put in Dr. Bush's own words. Perhaps you will keep them in mind when you come upon this symbol of the inspiration which one man found within the wilderness:

"This statue represents my offering to the forest, my interpretation of its awful stillness and repose, its beauty, fascination, and unseen life. A deep love of this virgin wilderness has fastened itself upon me and remains today. It seemed that I must leave something behind .... if it arouses thought in those who see it, I shall be amply repaid. I shall be satisfied to leave my feeble attempt at sculptural expression alone and unmarked, for those who may happen to see it and who may find food for thought along the lines it arouses in them individually. It would be sacrilege to assign a title and decorate it with a brass plate." (Monroe, 1922).

(Biographical note: Dr. Earl Russell Bush, born in 1886, received his M. D. degree from the Indiana University School of Medicine in 1909. He practiced medicine in Indianapolis, Indiana, for a few years prior to World War I. After that war, during which he served as a member of the Medical Corps, he reentered government service, becoming Regional Medical Officer, U. S. Veterans' Bureau, Cincinnati, Ohio. In January, 1930, he became Associate Medical Director, Western and Southern Life Insurance Company. Dr. Bush is now retired, making his home in Fort Worth, Florida.).

References

Anonymous. 1919a (August 12). Mummy woman found in woods at Crater Lake. Medford Mail Tribune, p. 6.

-----. 1919b (August 13). Ancient figure of woman discovered. Oregon Journal, p. 8.

-----. 1921a (August 30). Sculptor is revealed. The Oregonian, sec. 1, p. 9.

-----. 1921b (September 2). Mystery Crater Lake petrified lady explained. Medford Mail Tribune, p. 5.

-----. 1921c (September 11). Statue stirs interest. The (Sunday) Oregonian, sec. 1, p. 15.

-----. 1921d (?September). "The Lady of the Woods" mystery solved. Clipping in Steel scrapbook collection from undetermined newspaper.

-----. 1924 (March 16). Stone woman of Crater Lake 'mystery' solved. Eugene Register, Eugene, Oregon.

-----. Bush, Earl Russell. 1930 (July 10). Letter to Mr. Steel in files of Crater Lake National Park.

-----. 1953 (August 24). Personal communication.

-----. 1954a (July 15). Personal communication.

-----. 1954b (October 31). Personal communication.

L(uman)., M. R. (Mrs. Ira Luman). 1937 (August 13). Lady-of-the-Woods. Medford Mail Tribune, Medford, Oregon.

Mills, Jessie Gwendolyn. 1943 (February 4). In: Jones, Nellie Rose. Carving in park is work of Dr. Bush, done in '17. Herald and News, Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Monroe, Anne Shannon. 1921 (August 28). Statue of woman rules solitary realm in woods. The (Sunday) Oregonian, sec. 4, p. 7.

-----. 1922. The Lady of the Woods. Oregon Out of Doors 1(2): 123-124.

Solinsky, E. C. 1930 (July 17). Letter to Dr. Bush in files of Crater Lake National Park.

Steel, William Gladstone. 1925. Lady of the Woods. Steel Points Junior 1(1): 1-3.

Williams, Jessie E. 1954 (July 10). Statue of a weeping woman. Tacoma News Tribune, Tacoma, Washington.

Willson, Robert H. 1923 (October 7). Mysterious stone woman of Crater Lake. San Francisco Examiner.

 

 

 

 

 

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