Care of Iron Man landmark statue changes hands
By Dorothy S. Martin
For the Enquirer
The Iron Man Landmark Statue has a long, strong history in Morgan County’s Iron Man community. Iron Man Grocery store, Iron Man subdivision and Iron Man Road all were named after him. He is now sitting on the corner of Highway 36 and Iron Man Road, about 2.5 miles west of Hartselle, with his outstretched arms pointing north and south.
He has been advertising Vega Cal, a liver tonic, here since the early 1900s.
The tonic consists of ingredients for body building of red blood cells, cascara extracts, peppermint, sugary syrup and, the main ingredient, 12 percent alcohol.
The 6.5-foot statue wears a hat and is double sided. One side says Vega Cal Gets the Bile, and the other side says Vega Cal for the Liver.
He faces the morning sunrise and the afternoon sunset.
Lucy Garner, a former Hopewell Homemakers Club member, now deceased, was a historian on the Iron Man Statue.
In 1991 she received a letter from Malcolm L. Wheeler, a Birmingham attorney and grandson of John. P. Beggs, the Iron Man Statue maker.
Beggs designed and made three of these statues before he passed away in 1923. One was located in Irondale, and the third one was in Gate City. His father came over from Liverpool, England, and was one of the leaders of the iron and cast-iron business in the early days of Birmingham.
Iron Man Statue was originally located on Neel Road, where there is a four-way stop sign now. Garner’s son, Joe Garner, and Bert Allen found him knocked down in the ditch. They picked him up, slid that heavy 1,000-pound statue on a wooden slide and pulled it, with Allen’s John Deere tractor, out to the new Highway 36–Iron Man Road intersection.
Joe Garner said they dug a hole and set it up good, but later it was run over again and was broken off at the knees.
The Hopewell Club Ladies asked that the statue be fixed. Highway workers and area people got County Commissioner Clyde Maples’ county shop workers to weld steel braces on the legs and place the statue on a strong, 2-foot high concrete pedestal at his present location.
In the early 1950s, Home Demonstration Clubs from Danville, Neel and Hopewell all paid tribute to The Iron Man Landmark Statue in a ceremony of painting, planting flowers and having a new light installed on a pole. Hopewell Club ladies have since been painting, planting flowers and maintaining the statue for some 75-plus years.
He was painted silver in the old days, so in his golden years, Hopewell Club decided to paint him gold with a black pedestal. This has been the club’s community project all these years.
People have dressed Iron Man up in various clothing. Once he had on a Danville graduate outfit. Another time he wore a yellow polka dot bikini.
Lucy Garner always said he was the “pride of the community.”
She shared her memories of being a little girl, riding in her father’s wagon and getting excited, looking for the Iron Man Statue on a trip to Hartselle. It was a sign they were almost there.
There are lots of other stories of travelers looking for the statue as a landmark to find directions while traveling long ago.
Several club members are second-generation Homemakers. Ethel Smith – mother of the writer – was the organizer and first president of the Hopewell Homemakers Club. Lucy Garner was a charter member.
Members have painted, hoed and planted flowers around the statue so many years that he seems like family.
Sept. 24, 2014, at 9 a.m., Hopewell Homemakers Club members met once again to scrape, clean and paint the Iron Man Statue. Helen Adair, Margaret Puckett, Bonnie Sanford and Dorothy Martin got out their tools and went to work.
Newman Richardson, Dorothy’s son-in-law, took out rotten timbers and replaced new timbers for the planter. Workers painted the concrete pedestal black and painted the statue gold, in homage to his golden years.
Lucy Garner, after age 85, handed over the club history to before she passed away, and the club put the Iron Man Statue’s new look and pictures on Facebook. The pictures drew lots of nice compliments and requests for the history.
With club members growing older and no longer able to carry on caring for the Iron Man, Hopewell Homemakers Club disbanded after 80 years of family and community service.
July 27 the community service project was handed over to the Rev. Amy Parsons Vaughn and the leadership team of Forrest Chapel UMC Church, located right in the Iron Man community. The church took over the care and maintenance of the Iron Man Historic Landmark.
A special ceremony was held Sept. 12 to formally transfer responsibility for the statue’s care to the church.