Houston Matters

One Man’s Search For The Lost Galveston Hurricane Statue

Celebrated sculptor Pompeo Coppini was making a statue memorializing the victims of the 1900 storm, but it went missing.

Lost Galveston Statue - Closeup
A closeup of Victims of the Galveston Flood, a statue originally designed by celebrated sculptor Pompeo Coppini in 1904 that went missing.

After the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which killed thousands, celebrated sculptor Pompeo Coppini memorialized the Victims of the Galveston Flood in clay, and then plaster, anticipating funding for a final bronze version.

But that funding never came. Then, sometime in the 1920s, the sculpture vanished.

Now, a Texas preservationist is trying to track it down. John Bernardoni says he’ll find it – or, if he has to — he’ll find a way to recreate it.

In the audio above, Bernardoni tells Houston Matters host Craig Cohen about the statue and his efforts to locate it.

THE SCULPTOR

The Alamo Centograph
The Alamo Centograph in San Antonio’s Alamo Plaza, by celebrated sculptor Pompeo Coppini.

Coppini was an Italian born sculptor who came to the United States as a young man. He eventually moved to Texas, where much of his work can be found.

He’s known for his sculpture in front of the Alamo in San Antonio, the Alamo Centograph, also known as the Spirit of Sacrifice.

And he’s responsible for well-known statues of Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross at Texas A&M University and George Washington at the University of Texas.

THE SCULPTURE

Lost Galveston Statue - Full Length
The statue, Victims of the Galveston Flood, stood over ten feet tall.

Victims of the Galveston Flood was more than ten feet tall. It depicted a woman standing atop rubble holding a baby while a little girl tugs at her dress. Below them, a man’s arm reaches up from under the wreckage.

THE MYSTERY

Lost Galveston Statue at the World's Fair
The missing statue, Victims of the Galveston Flood, on display at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904.

Coppini anticipated a patron would come along to fund the casting in bronze. But that never happened.

In 1914, when Coppini was preparing to move to Chicago, he donated numerous works — including the statue — to the University of Texas. In December of 1919, it was included in an exhibit there, according to a UT yearbook article referencing said exhibit the following year.

But, after that, the statue disappears from the records.

THE QUEST

Bernadoni’s great-grandfather died in the disaster, and, for the past three years, he’s been driven to try and locate the sculpture.

If he’s unable to track the piece down, he says he’ll move forward with Plan B — to recreate it with a new artist.

Bernardoni says he’d donate the finished piece to the city of Galveston, and it would cost around $450,000. But, just like Coppini, he’s still in search of a benefactor.

John Bernardoni
John Bernardoni poses with a photo of the lost statue Victims of the Galveston Flood.

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Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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