It’s been 93 years, but the case of the missing Michigan Governor has been solved by local author and historian Dan Austin.
OK, it’s not the man himself who went missing, but a statue of him.
His name was John J. Bagley and he serve as governor from 1873-1877. You might recognize the name Bagley Street in Detroit, which was named after him. Many people don’t know that it was Bagley who first established the state Board of Health, as well.
A depiction of Bagley was completed by 19th Century American sculptor Carl Herman Wehner in 1889.
The piece included a plaque and podium, which measured just over 3 feet tall, Bagley’s bust was surrounded by a low fence and placed steps from the Merrill Fountain in Campus Martius.
There was talk of placing the bust on Belle Isle or in Grand Circus Park not far from Bagley’s former residence, but those plans never materialized and that “place of honor” was never found.
Over the years, the bust has been stored in three different locations includong: the DIA storage space, the basement of the DIA’s current location, and then a climate-controlled DIA warehouse on the city’s east side.
“We’ve had this work of art since it was de-installed in 1926, so we’ve known where it was — it’s just not ours,” says Barbara Heller, the director and conservator of special projects at the DIA for the past 40 years. “We’re taking care of it for future generations even though it doesn’t belong to us.”
“Does Detroit need another bronze bust of a wealthy white dude? Probably not,” says Austin, “but he was a prominent figure in Michigan’s history. It’s just that most people didn’t know he (was) such a prominent figure in 19th Century Detroit that they put a bust of him right in the heart of the city.”
“I’ll work with our historic team to take a look at the statue and work with the Detroit Historical Society to figure out next steps,” says Katy Trudeau, the new deputy director of planning and development for the City of Detroit.