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By Jeremy Elliott

The Salem Lion, now 140 years old, has a commanding view of the Washington County Courthouse. Every citizen who has lived in Washington County since the mid -1880's is familiar with the limestone statue of the lion on the northeast corner of the public square. Many of us retain vivid memories of this hand-carved, king of the jungle from our youth. And the lion continues to capture the attention and imagination of the county's children, generation after generation. 

This year the old regal beast is celebrating his 140th birthday!
 
The lion statue was commissioned by Mr. Lee W. Sinclair for the State Bank of Salem, as a symbol of the bank's enduring service to the community. He originally sat on the steps of the bank, before the building was torn down in 1957, and he was moved to his current position on the sidewalk.
 
The stone-carving artist hired for this sculpture was Collins James Morgan, a resident of Birmingham, Alabama and former resident of Salem. Morgan had married Effie M. Lindscott, the daughter of local monument maker, William "Whiskers" Lindscott, who had a shop on Mulberry Street for forty years. It was in this shop that Collins James met Effie, while carving tombstones for her father and after their courtship; they were married and moved to Birmingham in 1879.
 
Mr. and Mrs. Collins Morgan visited the Lindscotts frequently, sometimes spending several weeks here in Salem and it was during one of these extended visits, that he accepted the commission to carve the Lion.
 
He started, in his father-in-law's monument shop, in 1884, with one enormous cut block of quarried limestone, which was a very popular building material of the nineteenth century and is still popular with stone carvers today, due to it's relative softness, rating a 3-4 on a hardness scale of 10, as well as, for it's ability to show detail and endure time. By using simple iron tools and abrasives, he began to mold the beast, starting with a process called 'roughing out the stone', where large sections of the rock were broken off with heavy chisels, hammers, mallets, hand drills and wooden wedges. Morgan then began to hone in on his artistic vision, shaping it with flat and point chisels, pitching tools and files, then finally, he spent countless hours hand-sanding the sculpture, birthing the animal to life.
 
During this time, the late Bradie Shrum became an adamant admirer of Mr. Morgan's work on the lion, stopping at the shop to watch him work, on her way to and from school. She remained affectionate toward the statue throughout her life, eventually encouraging the Morgan family to have a plaque placed honoring their artistic grandfather for his labors, before she passed away.
 
After his work on the lion, Collins Morgan was contracted, in the late 1880's, to do some of the stone carving involved with the construction of the present Washington County Courthouse.  Mr. Sinclair also commissioned him for some work at the West Baden Springs Hotel.
 
Mrs. Effie Morgan, who was suffering from severe diabetes, came to Salem in 1891 to attempt to recuperate from a year long struggle with the illness, but continued to get worse and died suddenly in October, at her parents’ home on the Canton Road. Collin James Morgan passed away five years later in Birmingham, the first week in February of 1896, from pneumonia. His body was brought to Washington County for interment alongside his wife.
 
Effie's parents, the Lindscotts, immediately assumed custody of the Morgan's three orphaned children, Thomas Morgan, Mamie (Morgan) Spaulding and Effie (Morgan) Huckleberry, who were raised to adulthood here and have many descendants still living in our county today. These grandchildren, of the stone-carving artist Collins James Morgan, still hold the legacy of their grandfather and the statue in high regard and have created a family tradition, through the generations, of taking pictures of their children around the Lion.
 
Over the years, the King of the Public Square has grown into a very recognizable landmark of the town of Salem and Washington County and many have discovered he is a very photogenic beast. If he had the ability to speak, he could tell you about the construction of the current courthouse, the Centennial, Sesquicentennial, and Bicentennial Celebrations. He could speak to the days of the traveling circuses, when African elephants walked around the square to everyone’s bewildered delight or the war bond drives of the first World War, when one of the earliest Army tanks took laps around our square and a plethora of other historic moments. Assuredly, when all of us have long passed into history ourselves, the lion will still be sitting atop his perch, watching over our future descendants.
 
So if you happen to find yourself on the sidewalks of the public square this year, walk by and wish the old Salem Lion a very Happy 140th Birthday!
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