By John Schaffner

The three bronze turtles reported to police as stolen from Charlie Loudermilk Park in October weren’t pilfered by a thief seeking to sell them for the price of copper, but were taken by the Buckhead Alliance as a reward to three contributors to the effort to rebuild the park.

The three turtles were part of a sculpture purchased by the Buckhead Coalition in 1998 for approximately $200,000 and featured an upright stylized bronze buck reportedly telling the story of how the Buckhead community got its name to a group of smaller animals, including one rabbit, three dogs and six turtles.

Now only three of the turtles remain as part of the sculpture by Birmingham artist Frank Fleming in the triangle park at the intersection of Peachtree and Roswell roads.

When the Buckhead Coalition discovered the missing turtles, the organization offered rewards for information related t their return–$2,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the turtles’ disappearance and an additional $500 for each undamaged turtle that was returned.

There was some thought that thieves may have thought the 75-pound turtles were made of copper—and worth a lot of money—but that is only a copper finish over bronze, according to Coalition president Sam Massell.

Apparently, the turtles do have some real value as part of the Buckhead Alliance’s bid to raise funds for the redevelopment of Charlie Loudermilk Park.

Buckhead Alliance chairman Robin Loudermilk explained that they were given to three major contributors to the campaign to rebuild the park, since the turtles are not included in the redesign plans for the park.

Loudermilk said he had been in New York for a few days and was not aware of the controversy over the turtles until he returned and was told about it by a friend.

The Alliance chairman, son of the park’s namesake Charlie Loudermilk, said the six turtles originally were part of a water feature at the park which was turned off during the drought and never returned. In the new park design, he said, the turtles will not be used along with the buck statue and there is no water feature.

With no use for the turtles in the park, the Buckhead Alliance, which now oversees the park for the city, decided to use the turtles to help raise funds to rebuild the park.  Loudermilk said he did not think it was appropriate to name the three contributors who actually received the turtles for the contributions.

“All’s well that ends well, and apparently they are in good hands, and the park will benefit from the financial support,” said Massell, who played a major role in obtaining the sculpture for the park in the first place.

Massell was asked if Robin Loudermilk  would be given the reward money since he came up with the information on who took the turtles. Massell said that would require someone going to jail, since the reward was for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who took the turtles.

The Buckhead Coalition still needs to care for some unfinished business. The Coalition asked Buckhead elementary school students to write essays on “Why We Want Our Turtles Back.” The winning school is to receive a $250 award.

Also, because of the historical significance of the animal collection, an additional $250 honorarium was to have been given to the Buckhead Heritage Society by the Coalition if the three turtles were returned. They are not likely to be returned.

Legend has it that Buckhead’s name was changed from Irbyville when a buck’s head was hung near the site in 1838.  The sculpture in Charlie Loudermilk Park helps keeps that history alive, Massell said.

John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.