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Boone County Courthouse
The Boone County Courthouse in downtown Columbia (2019 file photo from 939 the Eagle)

Boone County commissioners vote to remove Larson murals from courthouse

The Sid Larson murals will be removed from the Boone County Courthouse in Columbia, after the county commission voted 2-0 Thursday afternoon to move them to a secure location.

Boone County Courthouse
Boone County Courthouse

County Commissioners rejected a proposal from Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill to remove the murals and store them on county property, until a location could be found that would appropriately display them. Commissioner Janet Thompson says the county is not in the art preservation business, and says the artwork could the damaged. She also questions whether anyone would accept the murals. Atwill countered by saying they don’t know until they try.

Thompson countered with a different motion, to remove the murals and move them to a secure location. Her motion was approved by a 2-0 vote, with Atwill abstaining.

Commissioners heard about three hours of testimony on the issue last Tuesday, before a standing-room only audience. 31 people testified at that hearing.

Former Boone County Judge Gary Oxenhandler and attorney Rusty Antel say the mural has no place in a courthouse. The murals show lynching and whippings. But supporters, including attorney Bill Powell, say those who wanted the Larson murals removed are misinterpreting its message.

Judge Oxenhandler testified at Thursday’s meeting, after the commission vote. While he praises the decision to remove the murals from the courthouse, Oxenhandler was fine with adding language saying the murals were welcomed in 1994 but that times have changed. That language was not included in the commission’s decision and vote on Thursday.

Atwill tells 939 the Eagle that he’s frustrated with Thursday’s vote. He began the meeting discussion by criticizing the extreme right and left in the country, saying we’ve lost our ability to compromise. He described his proposal as a compromise. Atwill says the murals were created in 1994 with the cooperation of then-Judge Frank Conley, then-State Historical Society director James Goodrich and others.

Atwill says the murals should be removed. He drafted language that said it’s the commission’s intent that the murals not be destroyed, and that Larson and his supporters and mural opponents be treated with dignity and respect.

Atwill tells the Eagle that the murals will be moved “soon,” but doesn’t have an exact date. He says skilled workers will be brought in to remove them.

Unlike last week’s hearing, there were few citizens at Thursday’s meeting. Most of the people at the meeting were reporters and the three commissioners.

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