Plans to nix Elizabeth Taber pipe go up in smoke

Jan 22, 2019

MARION — After much discussion and debate, the Celebrate Elizabeth Taber Committee voted unanimously that their cherished historical figure will keep her pipe in a sculpture, going public with the decision on Jan. 22.

The Committee and the Sippican Historical Society are working together to fundraise and install a life-sized statue of Elizabeth Taber in Bicentennial park by 2020. The statue would commemorate not only Taber’s generous donations to Marion, but also the hundredth anniversary of women earning the right to vote.

Plans for the statue showed Taber holding a book in one hand and a pipe in the other. This reflected the philanthropist’s habit of smoking a small cherub pipe.

On Dec. 11 the Marion Board of Health wrote a letter to the Celebrate Elizabeth Taber Committee to request that they remove the pipe from the statue, because it might encourage students at the nearby Sippican School to smoke.

The request prompted debate, as many Marion residents believe that the pipe represents Taber’s lifestyle, or that history should be presented as it is, and not modified to be politically correct.

The president of the Celebrate Elizabeth Taber committee, Judy Rosbe, appeared at a Board of Health meeting Jan. 22 to answer its letter.

Smoking is not an inconsequential issue in the tri-town. Earlier in the meeting, the Board of Health noted that recent surveys of Old Rochester Regional showed that the percentage of students who acknowledge smoking or vaping has risen from somewhere between three and seven percent to around 28 percent.

While the Celebrate Elizabeth Taber Committee honored the Board of Health’s request to reconsider the pipe, after debate, it ultimately voted to preserve it in the statue. 

“We voted unanimously to have her cupping the pipe because we wanted to portray her as historically accurate,” Rosbe said.

For fellow committee member Amanda Stone, the choice was also about representing the benefactress accurately.

“The decision was about capturing the essence of who Elizabeth Taber was, and also to support artistic expression,” Stone said. Sculptor Erik Durant did bring two arms to the Committee’s Jan. 15 meeting where it discussed the issue, but was in support of keeping the pipe. 

Rosbe added that the pipe may not necessarily promote tobacco use, since it is impossible to know that Taber smoked tobacco in it.

“We don’t know whether she smoked tobacco in the pipe. It may have been other herbs for medicinal reasons,”  Rosbe explained.

Rosbe was respectful of the board’s letter, and never intended to spark so much debate.

“We appreciate the letter you wrote to us, and my initial thought upon receiving the letter was, ‘we don’t want to have any controversy over this,’” said Rosbe.

Stone also regrets that the request and subsequent debate about the pipe brought so much attention and controversy.

“There has now been much more attention drawn to the pipe, and that was never our intention,” said Stone.

The Board of Health had no comment on the decision.