The good thing about writing is that errors can be fixed, but that is an option that sculptors do not often have. Poor planning and unexpected oversights on the part of an artist or plaque-maker working with words can lead to public mistakes that are sometimes impossible to fix because they are literally set in stone, bronze, or some other hard material. Here are a few examples of mistakes that were not caught in the design phase and had to be addressed later, after it was already too late.
1. STONE OF HOPE // WASHINGTON, D.C.
The Stone of Hope memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was designed by the ROMA Design Group and selected by a panel of judges as a part of The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation competition back in the year 2000. In 2007, Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin was hired to bring the 30-foot-tall memorial to life, and in 2011 it was completed and unveiled on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.. Shortly after, a few people noticed that Dr. King had been misquoted in an inscription on the sculpture.
The inscription read, “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” According to the National Park Service website, the quote was paraphrased from a 1968 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The longer quote read, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”
Maya Angelou said that the quote, as it appeared on the sculpture, made King look like “an arrogant twit,” adding that he “was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply ... the ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient. Leaving it out changes the meaning completely.” In 2013, the sculptor was asked to return to remove the quote entirely.
2. EDGAR ALLAN POE STATUE // BALTIMORE, MD
According to Baltimore Heritage, the Edgar Allan Poe statue that sits outside the University of Baltimore School of Law was commissioned in 1911 by the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association of Baltimore. Sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel made the model for the sculpture three times: The first time it was destroyed in a fire on its way to Berlin, the second time it was destroyed in an earthquake, and shipment of the third was delayed for years because of WWI. When the sculpture finally arrived in Baltimore in 1921, an inscription at the base incorrectly featured the word “dreaming” minus its “i,” and the word “mortal” was pluralized.
Ezekiel had passed away four years before the sculpture arrived, so he could not fix it, but someone did try. In 1930, a tree surgeon named Edmond Fontaine took a chisel and got rid of the “s” in “mortals” without permission. He was arrested and spent the night in jail, but was later let off with a warning. The statue was moved to its current location in 1982, but the base was in bad shape, so it was removed and a plaque with the fixed quote was added.
3. LINCOLN MEMORIAL // WASHINGTON, D.C.
The National Park Service admits that the myth of there being a typo at the Lincoln Memorial is “partially true,” but one of the engravers definitely made a mistake that millions of visitors have seen. On the north wall of the memorial, the word “FUTURE” in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is misspelled as “EUTURE.” The bottom of the first letter was later filled in to correct the mistake, but it's easy to spot the repair.
4. ERNIE PYLE STATUE // BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA
In 2014, a sculpture was made in honor of WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle and installed in front of Indiana University's Media School in Pyle’s home state. The kind gesture was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that the sculptor, Tuck Langland, left an "r" out of the word “correspondent,” according to USA Today. The error was fixed in 2015 by Giorgio Gikas, a bronze artist and art conservator from Detroit.
5. EMILY CARR BRONZE STATUE // VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Canadian artist Emily Carr, her dog Billy, and her pet monkey Woo were immortalized in bronze outside of the Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria, British Columbia, Canada in 2010. While onlookers admired the new $400,000 sculpture, others noticed that a nearby plaque contained a mistake. Instead of calling Carr “Victoria’s best known citizen,” the dedication read “best know citizen.” Barbara Paterson, the sculptor responsible for the sculpture but not the plaque, told CBC News she felt badly, as the committee had worked hard to raise funds for the memorial. “They thought they were dotting every 'i' and crossing every ['t'] ... But you know, if that's the only flaw in this whole huge long route, I think we're laughing.”
6. PELLE MONUMENT // OSLO, NORWAY
In 2013, a Norwegian artist blamed English language spellchecking software for the numerous mistakes that found their way onto a WWII memorial in Oslo. The Independent reported that the Pelle Monument was made to honor the country’s resistance fighters, with the names of dozens of saboteurs and others who lost their lives etched into it, but the other sections of the text are where the sculptor had issues. Norwegian words like “fellesskap” and the phrase “Oslo-området” were misspelled, and there were also grammatical errors throughout. “I hope it won’t get too much attention,” the sculptor (and daughter of a resistance fighter) Kirsten Kokkin said. “I worked on the text in America, and didn’t have a Norwegian word program. The text went through at least three people in addition to me. So this was missed, but it can’t be changed in retrospect.”
7. WAYNE GRETZKY STATUE // BRANTFORD, ONTARIO
In 2013, a 12-year-old boy named Joel Englund from Brampton, Ontario was the eagle-eyed fan who noticed that a statue of famed hockey player Wayne Gretzky, sculpted by Texas-based artist Brad Oldham and installed at Canada's Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre, had a few questionable elements. Englund pointed out that not only did Oldham misspell Gretzky’s name as "Gretzsky," but he also erroneously listed him as a player for the Detroit Red Wings.
Other errors on the sculpture included the wrong dates for his Stanley Cup wins, and the engraved names of people who had never played the sport, including Oscar Wilde and Kanye West. According to the Brampton Guardian, Gretzky himself attended the unveiling of the sculpture, but Englund was first to notice the mistakes a month later (for the artist’s part, he insisted that it was never intended to be read).
8. TOM LONGBOAT SCULPTURE // TORONTO, ONTARIO
In 2015, a statue that was erected for the Pan American Games in Toronto to honor First Nations athlete Tom Longboat for his victory at the 1907 Boston Marathon made reference to his discipline, presence, and persistence ... only that last word was misspelled as “persistance.” "I think it would be kind of disrespectful for [the city] to leave it," a passerby told the Toronto Star. "I hope there aren’t any other mistakes on it, but they should change it."