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North Park Staff Plans for Restoration of Historic Native American Story Pole

The pole was carved in 1928 by Chief William Shelton of the Snohomish Nation in Washington state and was erected in North Park in 1929.

An 83-year-old Native American story pole battered by years of exposure to the weather was moved inside a barn at the North Park Latodami Nature Center Wednesday morning. Park officials plan to keep it stored in the more sheltered location until it can be restored.

"If we didn't do it now, we'd lose it," said North Park Supervisor Don Schmitt. 

The story pole, commissioned in 1928 by Allegheny County Commissioner Edward Vose Babcock and carved by Chief William Shelton of the Snohomish Nation in Washington state, was erected in North Park in 1929. It stood next to Flagstaff Hill along Walter Road until earlier this year. In May, the story pole was removed by Allegheny County Public Works in order to preserve it. Until this morning, it was being stored in an outside spot near the barn. 

The pole, originally 40 feet tall, lost about 5 feet from the bottom when it was removed from its original concrete anchor. It was carved from a single western cedar tree, and weighs about 1,000 pounds. 

Park personnel said they hope to apply for grants to pay for the restoration, which the Snohomish Nation of the Tulalip Tribe in Washington state has agreed to do. Once restored, they said they'd like to display it in a glass case indoors. 

"It's a great part of North Park history," said permanent assistant naturalist Earl Dingus, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation. "Unfortunately it's not part our nation of this area, but its Native American history." 

The pole features 13 carvings each with an associated story. They include images of a brown bear (at top and damaged), an alligator, two men, a snake, an eagle, a seal, masks, a whale, and a woman. 

"It's a great honor to be at the bottom," Dingus said, explaining that the idiom "low man on the totem pole" is misused. "Many Native American nations are matriarchal and honor the woman. That's why she is at the bottom." 

Peri Unligil April 10, 2012 at 04:32 PM
I can't wait to see this storypole restored at North Park; it is historic, beautiful, and a monument to our relationship with the natural world and what we can learn from native culture. Hopefully, the work is already underway.
Kathleen Wood December 11, 2012 at 02:33 PM
I was raised in West View and spent many, MANY hours enjoying all that North Park has to offer. Both my daughter and I are artists/painters. If we can help in the restoraton process, we wil glady donate our time and skills. justawildirishrose@gmail.com

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