Quirky Statue in Paris, Texas
After mentioning Paris, Texas recently in the post A to Z Texas: E is for Eiffel Tower I’m bringing up that little burg again because it’s home to a quirky statue known locally as the, “Jesus in cowboy boots.”
This statue is actually the 20 foot tall grave marker honoring a man named Willet Babcock, who died in 1888. While impressive, it would hardly be the quirky tourist attraction that it has become were it not for the unusual footwear worn by the cross-bearing figure it depicts; instead of the bare feet or sandals one often associates with Biblical folk, this one wears cowboy boots.
Who was Willet Babcock?
Willet Babcock was a Civil War veteran who moved from Ithaca, New York to Paris, Texas where he became a prominent businessman with an interest in art and theater. Mr. Babcock’s love of the arts is evidenced by the fact that his furniture showroom in downtown Paris also housed the local opera house on its second floor.
Who Made Jesus in Cowboy Boots?
Babcock commissioned his impressive headstone from the Paris Marble Works in 1880, eight years before he was laid to rest on the south side of town in Evergreen Cemetery.
There’s argument over whether the statue depicts Jesus carrying a cross, or whether it’s actually supposed to be a mourning angel leaning against a cross. Some folks claim the face is too feminine looking to be Jesus. While I could tell that he or she did not wear a beard, I couldn’t decide for myself whether the face was masculine or feminine, since the statue was heavily backlit during my visit. Next time I go, I will try to get a better look (and take photos to show you here.)
Mysteries Surround Jesus in Cowboy Boots
More rumors surround the statue, as well. For one thing, unlike most of the other 40,000 graves in Evergreen Cemetery, Babcock’s faces towards the west instead of the east.
This might not seem like a big deal in our day and age; everyone has a GPS now, right? Seriously though, back in the 1800’s, the direction your body was laid to rest mattered to people. Facing west was weird because it breaks with the old Christian tradition of burying people facing east (so they will be facing the right direction when Jesus returns to earth.)
Modern viewers have also been taken aback by the upside down torches engraved on the base of the monument. Some have even interpreted the torches and the monument direction to mean that Mr. Babcock and his wife were atheists.
While I am also puzzled by the direction the Babcock monument faces, I do know that inverted torches are a Christian symbol. I’ve seen that motif in other historical cemeteries such as Kensal Green: A Historic Victorian Graveyard in London and subsequently researched the symbolism.
What Do Upside Down Torches Mean on a Grave?
So, what is the significance of upside down torches on a headstone? You know how a candle will go out if you hold it upside down? An inverted torch symbolizes the idea that one’s life is like a flame, and that even when this flame is extinguished by death, one’s soul continues to burn in the afterlife.
More A to Z blog posts
This was my post for the letter J of the A to Z blogging challenge. Tune in tomorrow to see what quirky Texan thing the letter K will bring!
In the meantime, click on this link to find out what other A to Z blogging challenge folks are writing about.