The Long Blue Tail Christ-of-the-Ohio
Last week was the Cannelton Heritage Festival in Cannelton, IN. On my way to finding out about Cannelton, I spent a little time reading up about the Christ-of-the-Ohio statue. William Least Heat-Moon mentions Christ-of-the-Ohio Catholic Church in passing in Blue Highways, but completely passes by the fascinating story of how the statue came to be.
The first story I read was Christ of the Ohio: A Narrative. It is written from the viewpoint of “Herb Jogust”, a German Prisoner of War who was held in Kentucky during World War II and how came to create the nine foot sculpture of Christ on a hill overlooking the Ohio river. From this, I started looking around to find more about the sculpture. The narrative starts off:
I remember the many lonely nights I spent lying in a cold, damp cell where the stench of my own body odor mixed with urine was almost more that I could stand. The horrible coughing echoed through the halls serving as a dim reminder that tomorrow our lungs would again be filled with coal dust.
I had been captured as a prisoner. The U.S. Army was most displeased that a German, like myself, was free and alone traveling through North America, especially when Americans were dying every day in a war with my country. Honestly, I meant no harm. I was an artist, a sculptor who longed to see the world, but war changes everything.
The story just didn’t sound quite right. It was not attributed and had a different spelling of the sculptor’s name.
This led me to Ruth Cook’s blog, Geneva POW, which is about “German POWs in America during World War II”. She has two posts about Herbert Jogerst. The first is Herbert Jogerst POW Sculptor in which she talks about the sculptor and his history. It paints a different picture, and a different spelling of the name than the narrative on the Perry County website.
During his time in Camp Breckenridge, Jogerst was given a barracks to use as a studio and instructed other POWs in calligraphy and figure drawing. When a music pavilion was built by the POWs for their concerts, he built a fountain for it. While others played chess in the evenings, he worked with piles of stone to built the fountain.
It goes on to talk about about Jogerst being interviewed by Alfred Eisenstett for an article for Life Magazine.
Among the responses to this article, Life received letters from more than 2,000 readers who wanted to help this German POW preserve his work. As a result, Life placed six overseas trunks at Jogerst's disposal. He was able to send more than 300 of his paintings and carvings home to his mother for safe keeping.
Later, Ms Cook wrote a blog post about being contacted by Jogerst’s cousin. Earlier this year, Bruce and Nyla Jogerst were travelling in the United States and wanted to see some of the material that Ms. Cook had collected.
Some of Mr. Jogerst’s other work includes interior decorations for Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Haubstadt, IN. In addition, Mr. Jogerst created sculptures for St Meinrad’s Archabbey in St. Meinrad, In.
On the facade are statues of the Virgin Mary, St. Benedict (whose Rule Benedictine outlines the lifestyles of monks and nuns) and St. Scholastica, St. Benedict's twin sister. The statues were carved from Tennessee marble by German sculptor Herbert Jogerst.
Mr. Jogerst died in 1993, so I’ve only been able to meet him indirectly through the writings about his art work. Yet it is his stories and stories of people like him that dot the American landscape and make these explorations, virtually though they may be, interesting.