Roger Taney, 2017
Taney, Johnson busts scheduled to be removed from Frederick City Hall this weekend
The entrance of Frederick City Hall could look much different after Saturday, if all goes as planned and the long-standing busts of Roger Brooke Taney and Gov. Thomas Johnson are hauled off to a new location.
John Kinnaird, with Thurmont-based R.S. Kinnaird Memorials, said the city contracted with his company to remove the busts, their bases and a plaque interpreting the historic Dred Scott decision and relocate them to Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Mayor Randy McClement said Thursday night that the work may be delayed if Kinnaird determines that he cannot work around the lingering snow from a storm that hit earlier in the week. Several inches of snow is on the ground in front of the busts and around the walkways. McClement said Kinnaird is coming to City Hall on Friday to determine whether he can do the work Saturday.
If the project is on schedule, Kinnaird said he plans to begin moving the busts at 9 a.m. Saturday.
“It may take two hours. It may take three or four hours,” Kinnaird, the mayor of Thurmont, said Thursday. “An hour for each one should be sufficient.”
Kinnaird said he will use a truck with a crane to pick up the busts and bases and move them to a storage spot at the cemetery. A news release from Patti Mullins, the city’s public information coordinator, said the busts will undergo restoration and the Historic Preservation Commission will have to weigh in on their final placement at the cemetery.
Nikki Bamonti, the executive assistant to McClement, wrote in an email Thursday that the work is costing the city about $5,000 and that putting the project out for bid was not required. The email said the city owns the busts and they will become the property of the cemetery once they are moved.
The Frederick Board of Aldermen unanimously voted in 2015 to remove the Taney bust. Over the course of negotiations, the Johnson bust and plaque were also tapped for removal.
Historic preservation commissioners had the final say on the removal, as the busts are in the Frederick Town Historic District. They voted Oct. 13 to remove them along with the plaque.
The vote came after a year-and-a-half long debate over the historic significance of the Taney bust and the message its presence outside City Hall — which once served as the county courthouse — sends to the community.
Taney, as fifth chief justice of the United States, wrote the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision in 1857. The decision said African-Americans could not sue in federal court because they were not entitled to the same rights as American citizens.
The bust was built and placed outside City Hall, which was the courthouse at the time, in 1931 as a tribute to the 20 years Taney spent practicing law in Frederick before moving to more prominent roles.
Johnson, the first governor of Maryland, owned slaves.
The removal of the busts hit a snag in December when Thurmont resident Charles Eyler and city residents Theresa Mathias Michel and John George jointly filed a petition for judicial review challenging the validity of the HPC’s decision.
In late January, Mathias Michel and George filed a motion to remove themselves from the petition. Eyler followed suit a little more than a week later, thus dismissing the petition.
A letter the trio sent Feb. 6 to Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner’s office, Frederick County Mayor Randy McClement’s office and The Frederick News-Post explained their decision to withdraw the petition.
“We made our decision because we felt that the purpose and scope of our petition became misconstrued, conflating our desire to ensure a proper consideration of the busts’ placement with an endorsement of historical views that we have always recognized as wrong,” the letter said.
Eyler said Thursday by phone that he wished the matter had been brought to a referendum, so Frederick residents could vote on the removal of the busts, rather than having some elected officials and volunteers make the final decision.
“We should have let people vote on it and then, if they said take it out, it would have been fine,” he said.
He called the situation “a political hot potato that nobody wants to deal with.”
“At this time, I think it’s simply a political way to escape this and try to look good for your re-election,” Eyler said. “Now, we don’t have a reminder of history. We have alternative history.”
Frederick News Post
Frederick County, Maryland
African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.
Allegany County (Md.), 1890-2008