DEAL ISLAND, Md. (AP) — The marble statue in the cemetery of St. John’s United Methodist Church on Deal Island stands about 6 feet tall. It depicts a slightly built man in his 60s, wearing a pageboy hair style, a robe or toga and no shoes.
Generations of children on this Chesapeake Bay island learned a simple aphorism: Ask the statue what he had for supper and he’ll tell you, “Nothing at all.” Now, some Deal Islanders are asking another question — who is represented by the statue so many have come to address as “Uncle Tubby?”
Many think the likeness is that of Silas Tubman Webster, a waterman and gentleman farmer who belonged to a prominent Deal Island family. According to family lore, artisans in Italy created the statue for $1,000 after Webster’s death in 1897.
“That statue is Uncle Tubman,” said Trussel Webster Harrison, 101, of Princess Anne. “You can believe that. That’s all I ever heard all my life from everybody — that’s Uncle Tubman. The Websters were the big people of Deal Island. They were the ones that had the money.”
Scot Disharoon, of Salisbury Monument Co., who is restoring the cemetery of more than 1,500 graves and repairing extensive damage caused by recent vandalism, thinks it unlikely the family would have sent all the way to Italy. There’s evidence that Italian masons and sculptors were working in Vermont then and that Webster’s estate ordered a monument through a Baltimore company.
As for the toga, scroll and bare feet: “My guess — he is a preacher,” Mr. Disharoon said.
Such observations has lead to the possibility that the statue represents an earlier member of the Webster family, Joshua Thomas, a famous preacher and perhaps the most prominent personality to come from Deal Island. Thomas is credited with spreading Methodism throughout Tangier Sound settlements before dying in 1853.
However, a statue of Thomas likely would have honored him and included inscription about his ties to the Websters. And Thomas’ grave and chapel — named in his honor — are just an oyster shell’s throw from the statue.
But for yesterday’s children, the statue will always represent the sage who never failed to reveal what he’d had for supper. Miss Harrison remembers asking and being told, “Nothing at all.”
Her daughter, Florence Jones, said her generation did the same thing.
“Every evening after school, we’d go over and ask him what he had for his supper,” Mrs. Jones recalled. “Then when we got home, they’d ask us if we saw Uncle Tub today, and they wanted to know what he said. Always the same answer, ‘Nothing at all.’
“There were three of us children who went every day. Didn’t go home from school until we went to that statue and asked that question.”