By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – The newly restored totem pole in the city’s business district is more than a facelift for a colorful landmark.
Boosters of the restoration say it symbolizes the community’s commitment to the revitalization of its downtown.
A public rededication ceremony is set for 4:30 p.m. tomorrow at the fountain park at the southwest corner of Eureka and Biddle.
George Gouth, a retired Wyandotte educator and historian now living in Taylor, provided the lobbying and technical support, as well as some of the elbow grease, to restore the symbolic totem pole. He has published 17 separate works dealing with Wyandotte history and used his own tools for some of the project.
Alastra Construction took down the pole, transported it and did the heavy work. The restoration cost about $1,500 in materials.
Throughout the process, Gouth said, he found solutions to unexpected problems and gathered community support.
“Little did we realize what was in store for us when we brought our historic totem pole to the municipal garage for a major restoration,” he wrote in his rededication speech. “Sept. 29, 2009, was truly a magical day. It was almost like seeing an old friend at the hospital. You know he’s ill, but you don’t know if things can get better or if the illness is fatal.”
Some were concerned that the pole was beyond repair. However, Gouth now believes his backers’ “39-year-old friend” is back in good health and looking as good as it did when it was dedicated in 1971. He commended all who helped support the project, saying, “There isn’t a community in the area here that has done as much at preserving the … history as the city of Wyandotte.”
Many steps have been taken to help ensure that the pole is no longer at the mercy of the elements – especially the supportive I-beam on the inside. The elements that led to the totem’s initial deterioration have been removed.
Bolts were put through the pole in 2000 in order to attach it to the beam, Gouth said, but when the pole was drawn up against the I-beam, an inset door on the back no longer fit. So instead of making a new back for the pole, it was left open and exposed to the elements.
“Rain came in there, insects came in there, snow, leaves piled up around the base,” Gouth said. “That’s what rotted out the base. We’re going to eliminate that by raising it 2 to 2 1/2 feet off the ground.”
He’s made a new two-piece door that will overlap and protect the back of the totem pole. The door will be sealed with silicone so that insects can’t get inside and to prevent damage to the I-beam.
The turtle on top of the pole will be mounted in a pan that will seal it from the totem and the totem from it. There will no longer be metal bolts going through the top of the totem pole.
“The stuff that we put on there instead of Bondo or caulking has eliminated those cracks (in the turtle),” Gouth explained. “So I’m hoping that it holds up.”
Gouth further recommended that the pole be inspected every few years to see how well it is holding up, or if the integrity of the pole has been compromised. He believes the major renovations that have been made will allow it to last longer.
Artist Gordon Watkins’ original colors have been duplicated as closely as possible.
“We think that Wyandotters will find the restored monument very colorful again,” Gouth said. “Our hope is we’ve solved some of the concerns we’ve seen that led to the deterioration and damage of our old friend.”
Gouth hopes the restored totem pole will be around for many future generations to enjoy. He reiterated that officials are well aware that the Wyandott Indians did not have totem poles, saying the original monument always was intended to be a symbolic reminder to the residents of Wyandotte.
A totem can be an object, animal, plant or other natural phenomenon revered as a symbol of a clan or society, and often used in rituals among some peoples. The term also can refer to a carving or other representation of a totem.
“Every Indian tribe had totems,” Gouth said. “The totem of (Wyandott) Chief Walk in the Water was the turtle. The Wyandotts had 12 different tribal families, and each one was represented with a different animal or totem.”
He said the animal totem was carried with tribe members or sometimes tattooed on their bodies. Sometimes the symbol was included on a dwelling to indicate the family to which it belonged.
Officials express gratitude
Mayor Joseph Peterson noted Gouth’s contributions to the city with appreciation, saying, “We are grateful to George Gouth and everyone involved in the restoration of this Wyandotte landmark.”
Brandon Wescott, Downtown Development Authority director, said the involvement of Gouth and several businesses, elected officials, organizations, departments and individuals have protected the city icon.
“We are blessed to have people in this community that truly care about the future of the city while continually working to keep the things we cherish available to future generations to appreciate,” Wescott said.
The restoration also benefited from the donations of DRC Contract Cleaning, Downriver Stone Design LLC, Gouth Sheet Metal and Heating, Hood’s Do-It Best Hardware and the city’s Department of Municipal Services.
City officials tapped Special Projects Coordinator Natalie Rankine, an architect, to use her training on the project. Assistant City Engineer Gregory Mayhew served as its engineer and Alastra was the contractor.
Gouth also is grateful for the group effort.
“I have had a personal love for what the totem pole represented and meant to this community,” he said. “We began this project one year ago, and the experience has been very exciting and invigorating.”
For more information on the rededication contact the DDA at (734) 324-4506 or e-mail [email protected]