The push to remove a bust of Roger Brooke Taney from outside Frederick City Hall is advancing after considerable delays.
The city’s Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday will review in a workshop session an application to remove both the Taney bust and one of Gov. Thomas Johnson from outside City Hall. A vote is scheduled for the commission’s Aug. 11 meeting, according to a report by Lisa Mroszczyk Murphy, a city historic preservation planner.
The application, submitted by Nikki Bamonti, executive assistant to the mayor, comes nearly a year after Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak put forth the proposal to relocate a bust of Taney from outside City Hall, and 10 months after the aldermen formally adopted a resolution in support of her proposal.
Removing the busts requires the HPC’s blessing, since the statues are part of City Hall property, which falls within the Frederick Town Historic District.
The application specifically seeks HPC approval to remove the busts of both historic figures, as well as a plaque that accompanies the Taney bust. The plaque was added several years ago to offer an explanation for the bust’s presence outside City Hall.
A specific replacement plan has not been determined, Bamonti said in a phone interview on Monday.
If approved for removal, both busts will be relocated. The Johnson bust will go to the Rose Hill Manor Park & Children’s Museum, run through the Frederick County Division of Parks and Recreation.
The Taney bust has two prospective new homes, although one has not been confirmed, according to Bamonti. Bamonti declined to specify the details of the unconfirmed location, except to say that the bust would be displayed publicly.
The alternative is a private home in Frederick County. The house belongs to Jimmy Smith, of Ijamsville, the grandson of Joseph Urner, the Frederick artist and architect who created the statue.
“I really wanted to keep it in the family if I could,” Smith said in a phone interview on Monday. “I remember [my family members] talking about the amount of hours and work my grandfather put in to that piece of art.”
Although Smith said he’s happy to take the bust, he would have preferred that it stay outside City Hall.
“It’s history, good or bad,” he said, referring to the legacy of the person the bust memorializes.
Taney is best known for writing the opinion in the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision during his time as the fifth chief justice of the United States. The 1857 decision said that African-Americans could not sue in federal court because they were not entitled to the same rights as American citizens.
Although he is “controversial and reviled” for this decision, Taney also played an important role in the country’s history and had many accomplishments as a legal scholar and jurist, Mroszczyk Murphy’s report states.
The bust was built and, in 1931, placed in front of what was then the Frederick County Courthouse, as a tribute to the 20 years Taney spent practicing law in Frederick before moving to more prominent roles.
During discussion of the bust’s removal last summer, community members and some elected officials emphasized the need to keep the bust of the historic figure in a public place. But the search for a new location proved more challenging than expected.
Mayor Randy McClement told The Frederick News-Post previously that he contacted multiple organizations and people who were not interested, including the Historical Society of Frederick County, which owns and operates a museum interpretation of Taney’s life in Frederick known as the Roger Brooke Taney House.
“The whole thing has taken a lot longer than I thought it would take or that I would like it to take,” Kuzemchak said in a phone interview on Monday.
Kuzemchak noted that the resolution did not hinge on a new place for the bust to go, just that it be removed.
But, she added, “I’m glad to see it’s moving forward.”
The resolution also made no mention of the Johnson bust.
Bamonti explained the decision to include the tribute to the former Maryland governor and politician in the HPC application as one based, in part, on symmetry. The two busts flank the entrance to City Hall.
The first governor of Maryland owned slaves, as noted during the series of public hearings about the Taney bust last year.
During comments at a meeting last fall, Bill Eyler, of Thurmont, mentioned Johnson while speaking about the consequences of the Taney removal.
“You better think about the other statue out there and say, ‘Well, do we want Thomas Johnson?’” he said. “And then what goes next?”
Rose Hill Manor Park & Children’s Museum, which interprets the life of Johnson on land he purchased for his daughter and later lived on, was a natural place to relocate the bust, said Jeremy Kortright, acting director of the Frederick County Division of Parks and Recreation, which owns the property.
“It accents what we already do,” he said in a phone interview on Monday.
The county Parks and Recreation Commission and the Rose Hill Children’s Museum leaders have recommended the bust be placed in the park, Kortright said.
County Executive Jan Gardner, who has final say on whether the bust becomes a part of the county-owned property, will likely review those recommendations in August, Kortright said.