Arts and Culture

Following months of public meetings and after a new set of public art guidelines were established, Mayor Greg Fischer announced in August that the statue of John Breckinridge Castleman would likely be removed by the end of the year. The statue became a point of public discussion because of the subject’s service in the Confederate army. 

But that statue was vandalized on Wednesday — and it wasn’t the first time.

Here’s a history of the vandalism of the controversial statue:

January 3, 1996: White Paint

According to a Courier Journal article, “one or more vandals threw half a gallon or more of cream-colored [latex] paint on the Castleman statue.” This happened shortly after the city and the Cherokee Triangle Association had spent $20,000 to restore the monument.

No prior vandalism attempts were mentioned in this piece, and none were found in an archival news search. 

In the article, sculptor and restorer Jep Bright — son of famed sculptor Barney Bright — said the statue suffered no permanent damage, but the clean-up would cost thousands of dollars. “It can be fixed, but it sure won’t be any fun,” he said.

The Courier-Journal via newspapers.com

1996 vandalism.

August 13, 2017: Orange Paint

In the wake of white nationalists and neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, — and the ensuing protests that ultimately left one counter-protester and two state troopers dead — the Castleman statue was splattered with orange paint.

It cost the city $8,200 to completely clean and restore the statue.

This incident led Mayor Greg Fischer to call for the city to re-evaluate its public art, determining whether any of the pieces honored “bigotry, racism and/or slavery.”

August 2017 vandalism.

February 7, 2018: Orange Paint

The face of the Castleman statue was found covered in orange paint. That same morning, the statue of newspaper publisher George Prentice, which sits outside the Main Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, was also found covered in orange paint.

Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

February 2018 vandalism.

In a statement emailed that afternoon, Fischer wrote: “[Vandalism] is costly, divisive and ultimately ineffective since it basically is a one-way conversation.”

April 12, 2018: Red and Green Spray Paint

Two days after the city posted a “letter” in front of the Castleman statue, which was addressed to visitors and residents, the statue was vandalized again.

This time, the words “racist” and “traitor” were spray painted on the concrete base of the statue.

Ashlie Stevens | wfpl.org

April 2018 vandalism.


The letter read, in part:

“The current site conditions will not be addressed until after this process is complete. Louisville Metro Government remains committed to a public process with community input. We urge you to participate in public meetings. Write a letter. Get involved. Let your voice be heard.”

But that same afternoon, a city crew came out to attempt to remove graffiti on the base on the statue.

Ashlie Stevens | wfpl.org

April 2018 vandalism.

At the time, Will Ford, a communications specialist for Louisville Metro, said the vandalism was classified as a “graffiti abatement job,” so no special restoration funds were tapped to remove the spray paint.

The crew successfully lifted the graffiti, but the orange paint stayed.

November 28, 2018: White Paint

Nearly five months after city officials said they would remove the statue, the Castleman statue was vandalized again with white paint.

But this incident was different. In the past, the statue was defaced with paint, or words remarking on the character of Castleman — like “racist” and “traitor” — were spray painted on the statue’s base.

Ashlie Stevens

November 2018 vandalism.


The latest vandalism seems to be a form of political statement on current issues: “house homeless” was painted on one side of the horse’s body; “no borders” on the other.

Fischer did not make himself available for comment, but Metro Communications Director Jean Porter, issued a written statement:

“As Mayor Fischer has said before, vandalism is not a productive way to share disparate views. It is costly, divisive and ultimately ineffective since it basically is a one-way conversation. And as we’ve said, plans are under way to move both the Castleman and Prentice statues, and we are still in discussions with Cave Hill about that.”

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.