The Holocaust survivor's statue celebrates the wife of Franklinton's founder and the Black child she raised.

In Franklinton, near Genoa Park, there’s a statue of a woman holding up a child. What is the story behind it?
Celebration of Life is a 9-foot-tall 2004 bronze sculpture by Alfred Tibor. He was born in Hungary in 1920 and died in Bexley in 2017. By any measure, his life was extraordinary. He qualified as a gymnast in the 1936 Berlin Olympics but was banned from competing because he was Jewish. In the war that followed, only Tibor and a brother survived out of nearly 40 close family members. 

He went to Miami, Florida, in 1958 and came to Columbus in 1973. In 1974, he produced his first sculpture. His horrific past informed much of his work, but Tibor—as this sculpture shows—could communicate a range of human experiences and emotions. A theme in his work is people with upraised arms. A sign of supplication? Hope? Joy? Celebration of Life is the latter and shows dramatically how an artist who endured untold suffering could rise above his past. 

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The sculpture depicts Sarah Sullivant, wife of Lucas Sullivant, U.S. land surveyor and founder of Franklinton, in 1797. The child was not her own—he was abandoned as an infant and raised by the Sullivants. He was Arthur Boke Jr., the first African American child born in Franklin County. The sculpture clearly communicates the joy and love between mother and child; on it is a plaque with these words: “I Donated this work to tell Coming Generations: ‘Freedom, Hope, and Respect, Celebrate Life.’ Alfred Tibor—Sculptor.” 

I have heard that Franklinton has some of the oldest buildings in Columbus. Where are they, and what do they look like? It does, all of them survivors of floods, urban renewal and neglect, and all listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Old Franklinton Post Office, 72 South Gift St., is the oldest known building in Franklin County still on its original site. David Deardurff built it in 1807, and the west room was the county’s first post office; it moved out in 1834. 

An addition dates from 1860, and the house was occupied until the 1950s. It’s in private ownership now. It doesn’t look like a log house due to its wood siding, a common historical treatment of such buildings. But be assured the logs are underneath. At the northwest corner of Gift and West Broad streets are the Harrison House and the Lucas Sullivant Land Office. The house, said to have been William Henry Harrison’s headquarters during the War of 1812, has been dated to 1807, but there is disagreement among historians about that, since it has features more typical of the 1820s and 1830s. Even if it eventually is proven that Harrison had nothing to do with the house, it’s still important as an early example of the Federal style of architecture. 

Behind it is the 1822 brick office used by Lucas Sullivant, government surveyor, to sell land he acquired in the late 18th century west of the Scioto River. It was moved from West Gay Street in the 1980s. None of the three buildings is open regularly, but you can see them from the outside any time. 

Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus.