Ingersoll Bust


This bust of Robert Green Ingersoll is the second largest sculpture of Ingersoll in the world. Carved by an unknown artist, it was part of the facade of the Beckwith Theater in Dowagiac, Mich. (pop. 7,000). It was long thought to have been lost when the theater was demolished in 1968.

Stove and furnace magnate Philo D. Beckwith gave a lavish $100,000 theater to his small hometown. Beckwith was an atheist; the theater reflected his tastes. The exterior featured bas-relief medallions of controversial artists, progressives, and reformers. There were six women, including Susan B. Anthony, and fourteen men, including Ingersoll.

Beckwith did not live to see the theater completed. His children finished the project. Ingersoll spoke at the theater's dedication on January 25th, 1893.

The Beckwith Theater was razed in the summer of 1968. Eyewitnesses saw the large red sandstone medallion of Robert G. Ingersoll crash to the ground. Unknown to most, the carving survived. The medallion surrounding the bust had largely shattered, but the likeness of Ingersoll suffered only minor damage.

Early in 2000, an unexpected telephone call informed Ingersoll Memorial Committee chair Roger Greeley that the bust was still in existence. Back in 1968, the story went, freethinker Jack Ruple had watched the Ingersoll medallion fall. He asked permission to take the damaged carving away. Four men loaded the 535-pound sculpture into Ruple's truck. Ruple then installed it outside his Glenwood, Michigan, home.

In June 2000, Ruple donated the bust to the Ingersoll museum. Greeley, volunteer artisan and architectural restorationist John McCartney, and volunteer Floyd Smith "exhumed" the sculpture from its concrete foundation in Ruple's yard.

John McCartney donated hundreds of hours to restore the sculpture, including filling in the damaged nose and chin. Floyd Smith mixed custom paints to give the repaired areas a uniform red sandstone color.

The bust was installed in the Museum and dedicated by Robert Greeley on July 6, 2001.


Ingersoll Bust


Donated by Jack Ruple