Editing Penn State Mythology
This mural has been a feature of downtown State College since forever; a grouping of the luminaries and “heroes” of the community, the leaders who made us proud to claim that “we are Penn State”. It served in some ways as an icon for the town. Obviously the Sandusky scandal put a needed dent in our self-image and led to editorial changes by the artist.
The first to go was Jerry Sandusky; he used to have a pride of place a few seats to the left of Coach Paterno but after he was arrested he was painted out to leave a blank seat. A few months later he was replaced by Dora McQuaid, a Penn State alumna and artist noted for her work with abused children. The chair also bears two handprints, one of Sandusky’s victim and one of a juror. Next, Joe Paterno died, and as was apparently the tradition for the deceased, was given a painted halo. Next, the Freeh report came out and the Coach lost his halo.
On one level, all of this editing of history is like Stalin editing his ministers out of official photographs as they fell from favor. On another you can see the artist reflecting the changing mood of a community searching for its best self. Sandusky earned his place on the high table as a standout coach and founder of the Second Mile charity. His arrest turned the town against him and cost him his chair. Dora McQuaid offers a model for a community trying to redirect its attention towards the victims of abuse. Paterno’s halo grotesquely reflects the changing image of the coach from an innocent victim of the administration to a flawed man involved in the cover up.
With all respect to Ms. McQuaid I would prefer to see Sandusky’s seat remain empty. I can see no more worthwhile memorial of the failure of our community and of its heroes.