Troy police officers found a severed head in the trash can of a Stewart’s Shop on Saturday.
Thankfully, it was just the fiberglass cranium of an Uncle Sam statue, the rest of which was still standing erect nearby on the corner of Congress Street and Fifth Avenue.
“Well, we lost another head this weekend,” said police spokesman Capt. John Cooney.
According to Cooney, someone tore the head off Uncle Sam some time late Friday night or early Saturday morning. An investigation is under way, but no arrests had been made by late Sunday. Cooney said such incidents are becoming common in the city.
Roughly a year ago, Troy’s Downtown Business Improvement District purchased 30 fiberglass Uncle Sam statues. Each one was painted by a local artist or school group and set up along the city’s streets.
They were meant to beatify the area, encourage downtown foot traffic, and eventually raise money at a charity auction.
Since their installation, six have been vandalized. The most recent act marks the fourth full decapitation. One head is still at large.
“It doesn’t take much planning,” Cooney said. “A good run and arm tackle and they break up.”
Despite the a high rate of decapitation, Cooney does not think the acts are being carried out with anti-American sentiments.
“Troy has developed a very active nightlife,” he said. “A lot of people under the influence. They tend to walk home, which is good, but I think they also get mischievous ideas along the way.”
That mischief all too often is directed at Uncle Sam statues.
So far, Troy police have made arrests in three of the vandalism incidents. One, Cooney said, was made following a long investigation and statement from a confidential informant.
“We got a search warrant and found Uncle Sam’s head in a girl’s bedroom,” he said. “She was part of the group that decapitated it. Honestly, you look at these things. They’re pretty well made. They probably make great souvenirs.”
As souvenirs go, an Uncle Sam head is a risky one. The statues are valued at more than $1,000 each, which crosses the threshold for felony charges. Cooney said if caught, any participant in the most recent vandalism could face criminal mischief charges.
“It seems like a fun prank,” he said, “but a felony sticks with people for the rest of their lives.”
The now-headless statue stands in a prime business location. Cooney said security cameras from three different businesses had a view of the street corner, so the odds of tracking down responsible parties are pretty good.
Over the past year, vandals cost Troy police a considerable number of man hours. Even so Cooney said the statues were a good idea.
“I was one of the people laughing when they put them in,” he said, “but now I see a lot of people taking pictures with them. I sort of like them. Maybe I’m getting old and corny.”
Like the others, the severed head will soon be reattached with some fiberglass first aid.
Downtown Troy Business Improvement District officials could not be reached for comment Sunday evening.