Statue Burnishing Etiquette

Lincoln's Head in Springfield.
Lincoln's Lucky Head,
Springfield, Illinois.

When is it appropriate to touch a statue?

People build statues of heroes. The Greeks built statues of Hercules and Adonis, the British of Nelson and Wellington, the Egyptians of Hathor and Ra. We build statues of our heroes, too, guys like Joe Palooka (Oolitic, Indiana), Steve Canyon (Idaho Springs, Colorado), and Popeye (Alma, Arkansas). But when a traveler comes from far away to look at a statue -- braving traffic, summer heat, and endless hours of talk radio -- sometimes looking isn't enough. Sometimes they want to touch it.

Vacationers want to know: Is it all right to touch this statue? Is it "lucky" to touch it? How vigorously should I rub? Where should I touch it for maximum benefit?

After years of research and looking at countless statues, we've assembled this list of burnishing guidelines:

1. Touch a Hero

It is always lucky to touch a hero statue. Heroes usually only get statues after they're dead, when they can't use their good luck any more. You may be able to rub off some for yourself (It's even better if you can find a statue of a hero who's still alive.).

2. Rub the Shiniest Parts

Hero statues are usually made of bronze, and after many years they will tarnish. But not the lucky part that gets touched. There it remains shiny. That's the part that you want to touch.

Foster's toe.
Stephen Foster's slave's lucky toe.

3. Be Gentle, Show Respect

A gentle "laying-on of hands" technique will get you more lucky mojo than the sweaty grasp of a Vulcan mind-meld.

4. Start at the Bottom

Shoes are usually the most-rubbed part of a statue, perhaps on the theory that good luck, like gold, sinks. Examples of the "Blessed Brogan" can be found on the statues of Lou Costello (Paterson, New Jersey) and Robert Wadlow, the world's tallest man (Alton, Illinois). The Maine Lobsterman (Washington, DC) is not standing, yet his boot has been rubbed spotless, mute proof of his potency.

The "lucky toe" of the slave who sits at the base of the Stephen Foster statue (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) is an example of a rare, unclad foot. It is extremely powerful.

Lincoln's Nose, Keystone, SD.5. Nose Rubbing

Statues without feet, such as the big heads of Abraham Lincoln (Springfield, Illinois), and Hyman Rickover (Annapolis, Maryland) have their noses rubbed for luck.

The lucky statue doesn't have to be an "original;" even a replica can be fingered for its latent powers.

Bronze reliefs (flat versions of statues) are almost as lucky as their 3-D counterparts. They usually have no feet, so the nose gets rubbed. Daniel Boone's nose, at his controversial grave in Defiance, Missouri, is especially shiny. He was lucky fighting bears.

6. Special Body Part Burnishing

Crazy Girls rubbing opportunity.Some statues have one body part that has brought their owners' good fortune. That's the parts that you want to rub. The camera-friendly buttocks of the Crazy Girls (Las Vegas, Nevada) and the metaphorical testicles of the Wall Street Bull (New York, New York), have been burnished bright by those who really need luck. Most of a continent separates these two fortune generators, minimizing signal interference and probably helping power the nation's economy.

The Dolly Parton statue in Sevierville, Tennessee, has a tastefully covered left breast that can be groped, either by hopeful maidens who wish to be favored with nature's bounty, or by their lowlife boyfriends.

7. Non-Human Rubbing

Hero animal statues, such as Jim the Wonder Dog (Marshall, Missouri) and Andre the Seal (Rockport, Maine), should only be touched on the head. There will be children present.

Testudo the Terrapin.Statues of deceased college mascots act as school spirit energy coils. Testudo the Terrapin, at the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, bestows good test grades on the undergrads who rub his head. He is said to also ward off parking tickets.

Rubbing the statues of fictional beings or cartoon characters seems to reward no luck at all. In fact, the action might transfer your limited reserves to some distant character trademark owner or cabal of lawyers. This is our untested theory, but you can't be too careful.

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