Exactly six months after Joe Paterno died, perhaps the most visible tribute to his legacy disappeared into Beaver Stadium on the end of a forklift.
Fast-forward another six months, one year after Paterno’s death, and the fate of the 900-pound bronze statue that so resembled the longtime Penn State football coach remains as murky as ever.
In the months after Paterno’s death, the site along Porter Road had become a makeshift memorial for distraught students and alumni seeking closure. But the university feared the statue became a lightning rod when the Louis Freeh report implicated Paterno and other top Penn State officials in a cover-up of child sexual abuse. The acts were perpetrated by longtime Paterno assistant and now-convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky.
And so Penn State workers armed with jackhammers and a forklift removed the controversial statue from the public eye as the sun rose on July 22, while much of State College slept. Since then, the questions about where the statue was taken haven’t stopped.
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“I get asked about it all the time,” said Lou Prato, a Penn State historian and the former director of the Penn State All-Sports Museum. “I just get asked about it as if I’m supposed to know.”
But Prato doesn’t know. In fact, there may be only a handful of people who can say with certainty where the statue rests — and they aren’t talking.
Lisa Powers, a Penn State spokeswoman, would only say “the statue is in a safe, undisclosed location” when contacted for comment Monday afternoon.
Not even Angelo Di Maria, the man who was tasked in 2001 with creating the statue, knows where his work is now. “It’s a big secret as to the location,” Di Maria said Monday.
“Of course as the artist, any piece of work I do becomes part of me,” he said. “It feels like part of me is missing.”
But the Reading-based artist said he doesn’t blame the university or question its leaders’ judgment for taking the statue down.
“The scope of the crime is so horrible, so huge that any mention of the statue just awakens feelings,” Di Maria said. “It’s too sensitive an issue, too horrible of a crime. The feelings are still running very hard.”
“I have to put my art on the back-burner,” he continued. “This thing is all about the children, the victims. That’s the priority. That healing has to happen. I can deal with the loss of the statue.”
But the decorated sculptor, who was born in Sicily, still believes his work will resurface one day. “It may be a while, maybe 25 years down the road,” he said.
When the statue first disappeared into Beaver Stadium, many assumed it would resurface at the All-Sports Museum. But Prato doesn’t see that happening in the immediate future.
Perhaps the university is concerned about safety, he said. Before the statue came down, a plane owned by an Ohio advertising agency flew over State College with a banner demanding the statue’s removal. “That was a real threat,” Prato said. “It wasn’t a joke.”
Still, with no official word from the university a year after Paterno’s death, many are left to simply speculate.
“If they destroyed it, that would be stupid because the trials (for former Penn State President Graham Spanier and administrators Gary Schultz and Tim Curley) haven’t even taken place,” Prato said. “They sure as heck didn’t put it in a tractor-trailer and move it out of the area. It’s probably in some building on campus. And if not, some secretive place.”
Meanwhile, many in the Penn State community wait not only for the statue, but for what they believe to be the whole truth about Paterno to be aired.
“Joe’s gone,” Prato said. “The situation is still unresolved. There is much more still to come out.”