Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

Arts and Entertainment

Totem Pole Stolen By Actor John Barrymore In The '30s Returned To Tribe

Stories like these are only possible with your help!
Your donation today keeps LAist independent, ready to meet the needs of our city, and paywall free. Thank you for your partnership, we can't do this without you.

A totem pole stolen by actor John Barrymore in 1931 has been returned to the members of an Alaskan tribe.

In 1931, John Barrymore was sailing a yacht along the coast of Alaska when he and other crew members spotted a totem pole at a village that appeared to be unoccupied, the OC Register reports. The actor, who would later star in Grand Hotel and become a grandfather to actress Drew Barrymore, told his crew members to take it. According to Steve Langdon, a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, they sawed it down and chopped it into three pieces.

Langdon started to do some research on the totem pole after he saw a photo of actor Vincent Price standing beside it. "It was totally out of place," he told the Associated Press. "Here's this recognizable Hollywood figure in a backyard estate with a totem pole… that was surrounded by cactus."

The pole belonged to the Tlingit tribe, who lived in the village of Tuxecan on Princes Wales Island. Langdon said they used it for burials, and that at one point, Barrymore's stolen totem had the remains of a man inside of it. It's unclear where those remains are now, but Langdon said Barrymore removed them. There were once over 100 similar poles, though, now few remain.

Support for LAist comes from

Barrymore put the pole in his garden when he got back to California, and after he died, Price and his wife bought it. They also put it in their yard. Eventually, in 1981, the Prices gave the pole to the Honolulu Museum of art.

Langdon went to the museum to study the pole after receiving permission from the tribe, and soon, via the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, it was decided the pole would go home, NPR reports.

The Museum had displayed a portion of the totem for a short time before moving it into their climate-controlled basement. They presented the totem pole to seven members of the Tlingit tribe, who came to Hawaii from Alaska, today. They sang songs and thanked Hawaii for caring for the totem pole, which will now be shipped to Alaska.

Support for LAist comes from