NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WIAT) — When Nashville Parthenon staff found a newspaper inside one of the museum’s statues, they anticipated it to be a publication from the early 20th century.
“It turned out to be from 1971 in Birmingham, so we were kind of like ‘Well, that’s unexpected,'” said Bonnie Seymour, registrar and assistant curator at the Parthenon.
The inside of the Music City’s Parthenon, constructed to celebrate Tennessee’s 100 years of statehood, houses an art gallery, exhibits highlighting the history of the landmark’s construction from 1925 to 1931 and, most notably, a replicated statue of Athena Parthenos created by artist Alan LeQuire in 1990.
The Nashville Parthenon’s collection also includes 14 casts of the original Athens Parthenon Marbles, purchased in the 1920s from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The casts were molded from the remaining fragments of the Parthenon Marbles housed in London.
Eva Sander-Conwell, an independent conservator, was employed by the Parthenon at the beginning of 2023 to properly clean the casts and “take 90 years of dirt off these sculptures.”
After removing the legs of one cast sculpture, depicting the god Dionysus reclining alongside a rock, she encountered some objects tucked away inside.
“When I looked into the holes in his leg stumps, I could see that in one legs, there was sort of brownish, like craft paper and the other leg, I could see crumpled newspaper,” Sander-Conwell said. “And so the curators asked me to get [it out] and I put on gloves and stuck my hand into that hole and had to crumple the newspaper up a little bit to get it out.”
The newspaper was revealed to be a copy of the Birmingham Post-Herald from September 25, 1971.
How did it get there?
The discovery of the Post-Herald newspaper has the museum’s staff baffled, as they say there’s no definite answer as to why or how it would be been left inside — or by whom.
“Someone couldn’t just come in and stuff it in there because all the openings were closed,” Sander-Conwell said. “If you put it in through the legs, you’d have to take those legs off, and they are heavy and large — or if you put it into the bottom [through the base] then you’d have to lift the body off the base and that’s really heavy.”
“It took four art handlers to lift the cast and so it is hard to imagine this was done without purpose,” Parthenon curator Jennifer Richardson said in an emailed statement. “The pages of the newspaper include comics and help wanted ads so I’m not inclined to think this was a time capsule.”
The possibly unintentional memento offers a glimpse into the past and is just a fraction of the history of the Parthenon itself.
“We want people to understand that these casts have been through quite a bit,” Seymour said. “They haven’t just been standing up there [forever]. They have a whole kind of life of their own and we just want people to share in that.”
“The casts were the very first pieces of the Parthenon’s collection but we have surprisingly few records about their history after they were used in the reconstruction in 1923-1924,” Richardson said. “The discovery of the newspaper is a glimpse into their history and something I want to document.”
Despite its nearly 100 hundred years of history, the Parthenon continues to intrigue thousands of visitors from across the world.
“Some people think this building is just an odd tourist trap but it is really a culmination of research and admiration for the ancient building and a symbol of Nashville’s artistic and educational ideals as the Athens of the South,” Richardson said.