Doug Kirby  /
Whistler's mother statue, Ashland Pa.
By Doug Kirby
updated 5/12/2006 5:43:02 PM ET 2006-05-12T21:43:02

In a land packed with highly visible monuments to our courageous forefathers, we were pleased to discover a fair quantity of "mom-uments" around the US - statues and memorials honoring our heroic foremothers.

Civic celebrations of historic motherhood start on the East coast in places such as Plymouth, Massachusetts, where Pilgrim mothers of the Mayflower are remembered with a statue and a fountain. Madonna of the Trail monuments stretch from Washington DC to California, identical pioneer matrons dragging screaming children westward toward likely death along the National Old Trails. Ponca City, Oklahoma, and Frackville, Pennsylvania salute pioneer moms in their own special way. And a remote memorial near Lusk, Wyoming may be the Mother-of-all-Mom Tributes.

Our favorite Mom-ument is the proud, larger-than-life Whistler's Mother statue in Ashland, Pennsylvania, a town where travelers can also enjoy the geological charms of the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine tour and Anthracite  Museum.

In 1937, a committee assembled during the annual Ashland Boys Association homecoming sought a way to honor Ashland mothers. They agreed it should be a bronze sculpture based on James McNeil Whistler's famous 1871 painting, "Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother" -- aka "Whistler's Mother." The image of Anna Matilda McNeill Whistler, with her severe dress and humorless expression, is not our vision of maternity personified, but in 1937 the mom role models were apparently limited.

The effort proceeded as part of the Work Projects Administration (WPA), the government's busybee program that left a legacy of strange monuments in town squares across the US. On Sept. 4, 1938, the 8-ft. tall statue on a three-ton granite slab was unveiled by two local mothers -- at 88 and 91 years, Ashland's oldest. According to a plaque at its base, the statue officially "honors all mothers, past and present, and is the only one of its kind in the country."

Doug Kirby  /
The Mother's Day Shrine in Grafton, West Virginia
When Mother's Day rolled around the following year, Ashland men who failed to remember candy and a card could simply point across the valley and say "Look Ma! That statue is for you, because you're special."

Maybe it worked once.

Today, visitors park on the hill below on North 3rd St., and climb steep stairs to Mother's granite retreat between Chestnut and Market Streets. She is seated, peaceful, gazing in the general direction of the road to Centralia, Town Atop a Burning Coal Mine. Carved into the Whistler's Mother's pedestal, a line from poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

"A Mother is the Holiest Thing Alive."

(Mother Monument: Borough of Ashland, SE of Bloomsburg, NW of Pottsville. Heading east, Rte. 61 turns right (going downhill) at the traffic light. Instead turn left (north) at that light (on the far side of the boulevard divider,), onto the uphill block of Hoffman Boulevard. She's straight ahead.)

A recurring piece of public statuary stands in twelve locations from Maryland to California, tracing a historic travel route from "covered wagon days." The statue is the Madonna of the Trail, an 18-foot tall tribute to the pioneer mothers who traveled west with their crazy husbands.

Ken Smith  /
Madonna of the Trail, Springfield, Ohio

The Madonna of the Trail is a pinkish, stony-faced pioneer Mom, in long dress and bonnet, strutting westward with a rifle on one arm, an infant on the other, another little cruncher grasping Mom's skirt (you may find Pioneer Dad on another statue in town, riding a horse).

The Madonnas of the Trail were a project of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution, dedicated in 1928-29. They are strung along the National Old Trails Road, now mostly Rt. 40. Artist August Leimbach created the mold. The poured algonite stone sculptures -- a mixture of crushed marble, Missouri granite, stone, cement and lead ore -- are identical. The historical info on the base of each varies from locale to locale.

Nearly all of 10-ft. tall, five ton pioneer mothers face west; the exception is the one in Bethesda, Maryland, facing east towards Washington.

To properly honor the pioneer spirit, one should retrace the entire trail, and photograph all twelve cookie cutter statues. Or, with less honor, take twelve photos of one and say you saw 'em all...

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1. Bethesda, Maryland - Wisconsin Ave. and Old Georgetown Rd.

2. Beallsville, Pennsylvania - US Rt. 40, across from Nemacolin Country Club,12 mi. E of Washington, PA

3. Wheeling, West  Virginia, US Rt. 40, across from North Park Apartments.

4. Springfield, Ohio, US Rt. 40 - Snyder's Park. Placed some ten blocks from the National Old Trails Highway, for no good reason anyone can remember.

5. Richmond, Indiana - Glen Miller Park, US 40 East and N 22 St.

6. Vandalia, Illinois - SE corner of the Old State House

7. Lexington, Missouri - Main St. and Jack's Ford Rd.

8. Council Grove, Kansas - Union and Main St.

9. Lamar, Colorado - S Main St. and Beech St.

10. Albuquerque, New Mexico - 4th and Marble NW

11. Springerville, Arizona - US Rt. 60 (Main St.) across from Post Office

12. Upland, California - Foothill Boulevard and Euclid Avenue

America's largest Mom-ument is in Ponca City, Oklahoma -- a 17-ft. tall, 6-ton cast bronze sculpture of a pioneer mother paying tribute to the "heroic character of the women who braved the dangers and endured the hardships" of the pioneer and homesteader way of life. The monument was dedicated on April 22, 1930, the anniversary of the 1893 Oklahoma land run. The sculpture depicts a woman in full-length dress and bonnet, marching westward and clutching her Bible and the hand of a young boy. Including the base, the monument is 40-ft. tall. A Pioneer Woman Museum opened in 1958 adjacent to the big lady.

(Pioneer Woman Statue: 14th  St and Highland  St, across from the Pioneer Woman  Museum)

In Frackville, Pennsylvania, the 15-ft. tall pioneer Mom is a more domestic rendition of frontier femininity. In contrast to the rifle-wielding Madonna of the Trail, this mother holds a pie. Perhaps she intends to heave it into the faces of baby-snatching hostiles? We wish -- but it probably has more to do with her location as an advertisement for Granny's Restaurant. She first came to Granny's in 1986, uprooted from her former home at a diner in Hamburg,  Pennsylvania. Be sure to check out the girl child clutching the woman's dress -- she has the face of a 40-year old man and drags a decapitated doll across the statue platform.

(Pie Woman: I-81 exit 124B, head northeast on Rt. 61 towards Frackville. Granny's is on the right. Granny's Motel and Kitchen, 115 West Coal Street.)

Lusk, Wyoming offers the most obscure of Mom-uments. Perhaps that's because Mother Featherlegs was a prostitute, and this may be the only monument to a lady of the evening in the United States.

Doug Kirby  /
Pioneer mom in Ponca City, Oklahoma
Mother Featherlegs was named such because her ruffled leggings made her look like she had chicken legs. She showed up in Wyoming in 1876, and immediately established her trade along the Cheyenne-Black Hills Trail. She lived with a ne'er-do-well by the name of Dangerous Dick, who murdered Mother for her money and jewels. Dangerous Dick was eventually captured in Louisiana, and charged with murder and robbery. Before he was lynched, he admitted to the murder, and claimed Mother Featherlegs' real name was Mrs. Charlotte Shepard.

On the old Cheyenne trail, it's a ten mile unpaved journey with 8-inch deep muddy furrows and ruts. When visitors finally reach the grave of Mother Featherlegs, they won't see any bawdy statuary, or even a noble bas relief. Just a 3,500-pound pink granite slab, the worn inscription partly blocked by a metal pipe fence.

Her monument is inscribed with the following:

Here lies Mother Featherlegs.

So called, as in her ruffled pantalettes she looked like

a feather-legged chicken in a high wind.

She was roadhouse ma'am.

An outlaw confederate, she was murdered

by "Dangerous Dick Davis the Terrapin" in 1879.

After paying their respects, Mother Road Trippers should head back to Lusk for a treat. The Stagecoach  Museum exhibits her famous ruffled pantalettes.

(Memorial to Mother Featherlegs: Roughly 10 miles south of Lusk on the Old Cheyenne Trail, east side. Can't miss it. There's nothing else to see. Mother Featherlegs Leggings: Stagecoach Museum, 322 S. Main, Lusk, Wyoming)

To find out more about unusual tourist attractions, click here . is the world's trusted authority on America's oddball and eye-popping tourist attractions. Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins humorously and thoroughly document the nation's strangest sights, sharing eyewitness reports, photos and video with millions of offbeat travel aficionados.

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