As soon as I saw this minor “attraction,” I knew that zillions of people have seen it and perhaps wondered about it. Not that it’s terribly significant on its own, but it’s on the way to Yosemite, so it gets seen. I put it here as well as on the Yosemite forum so it’ll get more views, and maybe some people can add more to the story.
For Bay Area folks, Hwy 120 is the usual way to Yosemite. I never took 140 until last month, and my curiosity was piqued by a grim, shabby-looking shaft of granite in a rural area east of Merced. The style was from the 19th or turn of the 20th century, and I wondered if it might be a weathered WWI or even Spanish-American War memorial, forgotten by the great-great-great-grandchildren of those vets. A century ago, it would not have been just “rural,” but positively remote, literally out in the tules.
I didn’t stop to examine it, but did a web search later and learned it was a monument to an old-timer’s desire to be remembered. His name was George Hicks Fancher. He was born in New York and lived from 1828 to 1900. Several family members came to California. After a spell in the Mother Lode, George became a rancher and banker (or some sort of businessman) in Merced and prospered. The monument stands on land that was part of his ranch. I haven’t determined who owns it now, but the Fancher family later sold an adjoining parcel to the Del Monte fruit company.
He never married. When he died, his family found he had willed $25,000 to build a “suitable monument” to himself. His brothers argued over what was “suitable”; one sided with a local teacher who thought at least some of it should help build a library. The fight went to court and lasted a decade, and the whole sum was finally sunk into that dreary 68’ tall granite obelisk. People seem to disagree whether Fancher is actually buried there.
According to Catherine Julien, a county historian, he “was not a big spender during his lifetime. He had a reputation of being a skinflint who scrounged away his money and spent little on himself. The obelisk is his monument to himself."
I found very few mentions of him in on-line sources. No street, park, or school named for him in Merced. No evidence of his philanthropy, civic activities, love of children, devotion to God, kindness to animals, appreciation for the arts, or generosity to orphans or disabled Civil War veterans. He left a large estate worth over $600,000, and other than the $25,000 for his monument, it all went to his sibs and their children—none, evidently, to the local library or other worthy causes. If he was truly a pillar of the community, he has been unjustly forgotten. OTOH, if he really was a curmudgeonly, misanthropic old skinflint, it’s easy to see why he would be terrified of not being remembered. I suppose he can rest well knowing that even if no one living today knows his name, thousands of people see his monument and wonder who, what, and why.