- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

CHARLESTON, Ill. (AP) - Aside from the dog paintings littered across the walls of the building now housing Fetchers pet store, a mural painted in the early 1900s might still remain intact within the walls of the almost 100-year-old building that once was home to the post office.

Historian Mary Thompson of Westfield, along with Doris Wenzel of Mahomet, have taken it upon themselves to answer the question of whether a painting still lingers among one of the walls on the north side of the building. Feb. 27, they looked to assess if their theories might be true.

With the help of a carpenter, Thompson and Wenzel analyzed and discussed in what wall the mural might be located.

Because the building has undergone several renovations over its lifetime, finding the exact point where the mural may be is complicated.

The sudden spark of interest between the two arose when Wenzel mentioned to Thompson the enjoyment she had looking at the mural in the post office when she was young.

Back in the 1940s, Wenzel, a former Charleston resident, enjoyed going with her father to the Charleston Post Office when she was a little girl around the age of 10.

Her favorite part consisted of looking at a mural that spanned a large section of the north side of the post office wall when going inside the building. From her memory, the painting contained farm equipment and soft-featured people potentially with a backdrop of farmland or grassland. She said the art seemed reminiscent of the work done by Grant Wood, a mural painter famous for American Gothic.

Thompson said this had to have been done in 1934 as a public works of art project with federal funding.

When she was around the age of 15, people at the time boarded up the painting and placed drywall over it in the process of building an office in the building. She said she was distraught by the idea but was promised the painting would remain intact and not be destroyed.

“They told me they weren’t going to paint over it, that they were just going to put a false wall there basically,” Wenzel said. “If they painted over it, I’d cry.”

In a conversation with Thompson, who has a passion for post office art, Wenzel mentioned the art in the Charleston Post Office. This piqued Thompson’s interest.

Thompson, who has researched and written about historical post office art in Illinois, said, up until that point, she did not know the former post office had a mural. Looking more into it, she noticed there was no mention or record of the painting.

“It doesn’t mean it is not there,” she said.

Both were assured the painting had existed, but not sure whether it had been painted over or destroyed. The walls in the building have been renovated numerous times, moving side to side and back and forth to fit the needs of the occupants at the time.

Mike Corray, Fetchers owner, said he was excited by the possibility of a hidden treasure within the walls of the building.

Earlier in the week, Corray chose to dig a small hole in one of the suspected walls to find out. To his dismay, nothing more than regular green plaster paint was revealed behind the walls.

“It sure made for a great story,” Corray said.

Currently, Corray remains skeptical of the possibility of the mural surviving the test of time and renovations, despite his excitement over the possibility. Corray said it is hard to believe the mural remained throughout the extensive renovations that have taken place over the years.

“I didn’t see enough things that made sense once I was skeptical about it,” he said.

One wall that sounds fairly hollow still remains to be checked, though. The wall they suspect to hide the mural stands behind a thin metal case along the wall with a lock in need of a key even Carray does not have.

Despite some skepticism, the mystery of the mural still remains an ongoing investigation for Thompson and Wenzel.

Wenzel said ever since the idea marinated in her head recently, she has been excited and hopeful the mural remains and stayed intact.

Corray said it might be a while before they might really be able to tear down and look into the wall. He said he can’t put so much money into finding a potential mural when the funds could be used for his business instead.

He recently got a hold of the blueprints of the building from over the years and will look over them to see if answers can be found through there.

“At this time, it is just a mystery we will never know about,” Curray said.

Over 100 pieces of art remain in several post offices across the state, Thompson said.


Source: Journal Gazette & Times-Courier, https://bit.ly/1QoopqJ


Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette, https://www.jg-tc.com

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