Sam’s Journey: From “Questionable Art” to “Local Landmark”

By Chris Ricci

It’s amazing how things can change over the course of twenty years. We’ve seen three different presidents, countless changes in technology, and the city we knew as Salem in 1995 is almost entirely different. Even more remarkable is the story of Samuel McIntire. No, not the famous McIntire Historic District architect, the wooden statue made in his likeness. If you’ve lived in Salem long enough, you’ve certainly seen him before: a tall wooden chainsaw carving created by artist Ken Dudley. However, many people seem to gloss over the rather controversial history of Sam. It started in 1995, when the statue was proposed, and the Salem News was inundated with letters claiming that the “Common Carving” didn’t make any common sense. Ken was lambasted, but people quickly rose to his defense. In an open letter to the Salem Evening News, Paul Brotchie slammed detractors, stating that “questioning the appropriateness of a carved wooden likeness of this national icon who personally designed and influenced the architecture for many of the very homes beautifying the circumference of the Salem Common is, in itself, an act of questionable common intelligence.”

The statue was eventually completed, and was unveiled and remained at the commons for many years. However, in July of 2001, the news broke that Sam was stolen from his spot. However, the response to the disappearance was quite different than the response was when the project was first brought to light. Samuel was referred to as a “Salem landmark” and various locals interviewed expressed their deep love for the statue. “I don’t know if I should say this,” said local author Margaret Press, “but I often hugged him.” 

The reactions of horror and frustration were calmed by the members of ARTSalem, who had actually taken Sam from his post to save his life (with some major help from Margaret Press). Sam fell victim to carpenter ants, which was an issue ARTSalem were trying hard to rectify. Even then-mayor Stanley Usovicz was fully behind the restoration of Sam, stating clearly “The instructions were quite clear – To save Samuel at all costs.”

In 2007, the Salem News again reported on Sam, but this time, it was marking his comeback to Salem. “An Old Friend Returns” was the headline, and the opening sentence summed up the city’s thoughts on this now beloved icon: “welcome back, Sam. We’ve missed you.” In honor of the actual Samuel McIntire’s 250th birthday, Sam was completely restored by Ken Dudley and made his way to his new post, located on Artists Row. As the article clearly stated, “It’s always nice to run into an old friend in Salem.”

Unfortunately, nature was not kind to Sam and, yet again, he was taken from his post to protect him from the elements. For a few years, Sam has been housed safely in Margaret’s garage waiting for a new home. Where will he go? What’s next for Sam? Is his journey over?

No, not quite.

Sam will be getting a permanent home now, thanks to JohnAndrews, the creative mind behind this very publication and the Creative Salem mission of supporting creative professionals and endeavors through all of Salem celebrating past, present and fitter creatives. So, in the future, when you see Sam standing proudly in our creative suite, be sure to thank him and his creator for making it from “controversial ‘art’ piece” to “Downtown Salem Landmark.”

Click images to see the stories and police log mentioned above. News articles by Salem News