This Thursday, July 24, our library’s Evening Upstairs program, “Mounds and Priests, Cathedrals and Popes,” will feature Dr. Kit Wesler, professor of archaeology at Murray State, and his discussion of the how the Wickliffe mounds relate, both chronologically and symbolically, to the medieval castles of Europe.
In recognition of Dr. Wesler’s scholarship and his insights into the history of our native population, our post today features another bit of local Native American related history, though history not quite as ancient as the mounds.
Today we give you the story of Wacinton, the Whispering Giant.
Ever heard of him?
Some of you may have, but for those you who can’t quite place the name, likely you’ll remember his face. It’s quite recognizable. Wacinton (pronounced way-cheen-too) is the carving of the Native American head that sits in Noble Park in front of the tennis courts. Unlike the ancient Wickliffe Mounds, however, Wacinton just turned 29 years old.
Wacinton was the vision and creation of artist Peter “Wolf” Toth, a Hungarian native, who fled his home country to escape Communist oppression when he was only eight years old. He and his family ultimately settled in Akron, Ohio, and it was there that Toth’s fascination with Native American culture began, for being a refugee himself, an outcast in his own country, Toth found a great kinship and fascination with the stories of the Native Americans. The carving he learned by watching his father who whittled toys for Toth and his siblings.
Beginning in the early 1970’s, Toth set out on a mission: to donate a giant wooden sculpture of a Native American to each state in the union, an undertaking which would eventually be called “The Trail of the Whispering Giants” because each of statues stands between 20-40 feet high and weighs in the tens of thousands of pounds. Using no power tools, and usually only armed with only a five-pound hammer and a chisel, Toth received no payment for his sculptures, only some lodging, meals, and the donation of the tree from which his sculptures were made.
Toth carved his first “Whispering Giant” in La Jolla, California in 1972 and by the time he got to Paducah in 1985, he had carved 49 different giants in 44 different states, each statue tailored to painstakingly match the facial features of tribes native to the region.
Toth chose Paducah as a site for one of his statues because of its name, its legend of chief Paduke, and its history with the Chickasaw tribe. Dedicated to the city of Paducah on May 26, 1985, the 50th of Toth’s statues, a rendering of a Chickasaw chief, was carved from a 56,000 pound piece of Red Oak and stands 35 feet tall. The statue was named in a contest sponsored by the city. Wacinton, meaning “to have understanding,” was the winning suggestion of St. Mary’s student, Jessica Dryden.
After leaving Kentucky, the 45th state to receive one of his statues, Toth continued on his “Trail of Whispering Giants,” following up with giants in Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon. In 1988, sixteen years after his first carving in California, Toth finished his mission by donating a statue to the 50th state on his list: Hawaii.
As of today, there are 74 Whispering Giants in total, located in the 50 states, as well as in Canada and in Toth’s native country of Hungary. Wacinton in Paducah, however, is the only Whispering Giant in Kentucky.
To learn more about Whispering Giants, the Wickliffe Mounds, or other history related to Native Americans in our region, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. The Evenings Upstairs program with Dr. Kit Wesler will be on July 24, 2014 at 7 p.m. in the library’s second floor meeting room.