A 30-foot tall totem pole is returning home to its native Alaska after an 84-year odyssey that landed it in the backyards of some of the most famous Hollywood mansions.
Famed actor John Barrymore, grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore, encountered it in an unoccupied village, according to NPR, and carted it off aboard his 120-foot yacht. He claimed that he purchased it during the cruise to Alaska in 1931, but that doesn’t fit with the traditions of the Tlingit (pronounced klink-kit) people to whom it belonged.
They believe that totem poles should remain where planted until they decay, unless the tribe or owner chooses to preserve them in place.
The totem, probably originally carved in the 1800s and one of only two surviving poles of the many that once stood in the Alaska village, was cut into three pieces and displayed in Barrymore’s California garden until his death in 1943. It was then purchased by horror film legend Vincent Price who later donated it to the Honolulu, Hawaii Museum of Art where the pieces went on display in 1981 (pictured left).
The museum decided earlier this year to return the totem to its rightful resting place, and after weeks of careful packing and planning, the pole was turned over to the Tlingit tribe October 22 during a ceremony in Honolulu. It was then flown to Seattle, Washington and placed aboard a ship for its voyage to Craig, Alaska where it was scheduled to arrive today.
Jonathan Rowan, one of the Tlingit people in Hawaii for the ceremony had one more job before the pole’s long journey home – he carved a replica of the original that will be placed in the tribe’s current home of Klawock, Alaska.
(Photos: Honolulu Museum of Art)