- Historic Sites
Presidents In The Woods
AN OHIO UNDERTAKER’S LIFELONG obsession has left a mysterious outdoor gallery of American folk art
April 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 2
The statues and carvings would seem remarkable in any setting. Here, appearing unexpectedly deep in the woods of Appalachian Ohio, there is a mystery to them, a sense of timelessness—even though the last one was completed barely seventy years ago, and the park was a popular spot until the early 1940s. A few people in neighboring towns still remember visiting Baughman Park and being greeted by the sculptor himself, Daniel Brice Baughman. But a more common reaction to questions about the place is a faint recollection of having once been told about a strange group of stone carvings somewhere in Muskingum County. Baughman Park is an almost legendary spot on the Ohio landscape, heard of by many, seen by few. George Randall, who owned the park until recently and still lives there, keeps a guest book. There are gaps of days and even weeks between signings.
In 1979 a regional representative of the Ohio Historical Society won recognition of Baughman Park in the National Register of Historic Places, but no one at the historical society has more than vague knowledge or the site. Not long ago I called Beth Fisher at the Ohio Arts Council and asked her about the artistic merits of Baughman’s works. She gave the standard reply: “I’ve been hearing about that place for years, but never knew exactly where it was, or what was there.”
Their reactions were typical of people who first stumble onto Baughman Park. “It’s extraordinary that I had never heard of this place,” said Griffith. Recchie couldn’t believe that it had been omitted from her survey of outdoor sculpture, which cites hundreds of pieces on courthouse squares and in town parks. All three members of the expedition declared the park a significant find, sounding very much like excited archeologists. The bas-reliefs carved into the outcroppings most caught Griffith’s fancy: “Either the chance of the way the rocks were formed or the way that Baughman, in a very Michelangeloesque kind of way, discovered the forms within them—those are pretty amazing pieces.”
George Randall, a retired heavy-equipment operator and long-time resident of the area, said he had fallen in love with the park years ago and long dreamed of owning it. “All that work, carved by a man who never had a lesson, who never got a penny for his work. To find so much history in one place, in the boondocks—you can’t imagine how I feel about that park, and how I’ll hate to leave it.”