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On the way to Yosemite - don't miss....!

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On the way to Yosemite - don't miss....!

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.

www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi…

…latimes.com/1988-07-26/news/mn-6442_1_bell-…

mercedsunstar.com/2010/06/24/1471609_tip-lis…

7 replies to this topic
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1. Re: On the way to Yosemite - don't miss....!

This is so funny that you posted this.... a friend and I just drove to Yosemite on Tuesday, and I had to pull off when I saw that obelisk and check it out. I googled that LA Times article and took some photos. It's just fascinating, especially the issue that it costs more to maintain that the trust can earn, so the lawyer responsible is looking to offload it... and nobody wants it!

Edited: 11:47 pm, December 21, 2013
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2. Re: On the way to Yosemite - don't miss....!

** "...it costs more to maintain that the trust can earn, so the lawyer responsible is looking to offload it... and nobody wants it!" **

It seems to be too much of a burden for any local historical society or public agency to take on, but if he really did make important contributions to the community, SOMEONE would step forward, even if his siblings' descendants, his nephews and nieces and their kids, have lost interest.

It's kind of sad to think he was so concerned about being remembered that he built this huge memorial to himself. People who spend even some of their time and resources doing good works 1) usually don't have time to fret about being forgotten; and 2) probably won't be.

In his defense, however, he wasn't the one who decided what the monument should be; his brothers quarreled and dragged it to court twice before one finally prevailed and this thing was built. It might be that Fancher just articulated his wishes very poorly in the will and would have liked to see the money go toward a library (since he made no other provision in his will for it, or for any other civic-minded purpose).

Maybe someone from Merced will come here and enlighten us further about this odd story.

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3. Re: On the way to Yosemite - don't miss....!

I've added more to the identical thread on the Yosemite forum.

tripadvisor.com/…62458829

San Francisco
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4. Re: On the way to Yosemite - don't miss....!

Well, someone does remember him. A couple of people have left flowers at Find-A-Grave, including one distant relative. And the local newspaper had a story about it with another relative quoted that it actually is Fancher's tomb. The land was part of his ranch at the time. Neither of those people is a descendant; Fancher never married and had children.

https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi…

mercedsunstar.com/news/article50831510.html

Still trying to find some historical tidbit that he was remembered locally for his civic mindedness, philanthropy, or some important accomplishment, but I haven't found any noteworthy reference to George Hicks Fancher other than that he left money for a big monument to himself.

Edited: 7:41 am, July 25, 2017
Lodi, California
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5. Re: On the way to Yosemite - don't miss....!

Thank you for answering an age old family question.

Reminds me of the great poem...

'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away."

The Netherlands
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6. Re: On the way to Yosemite - don't miss....!

Frisco_Roadrunner - thank you for this. While I haven't seen the monument, I appreciate your dedication and curiosity. Taking the time to research this and write it up for everyone here is very kind of you.

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7. Re: On the way to Yosemite - don't miss....!

Thanks for the thankses- it seems that since maybe a million visitors go by it every year, some might feel a little curiosity. And thanks for reminding me of Ozymandias. I remember having to read that poem in school, and it's still worth reflecting on today.

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