Paintings and old courtroom share county history

Retired Jackson County Judge Vernon Scoville in the historic courtroom where two rediscovered paintings are hung.

By Joe Lambe

When Jackson County’s remodeled Harry Truman Courthouse in Independence reopens Saturday, you might want to peek at two obscure paintings full of local history.

They hang in a historic courtroom and they and that room have their own quiet story.

It is called the Brady Courtroom after the late Magistrate Court Judge Joe Brady, who presided there for about 25 years.

But retired Jackson County Judge Vernon Scoville was the last to use it and he calls it his courtroom.

He visited it Thursday and noted stenciling on a glass door.

“I like it that they kept my name on the door,” he said.

He went to his old chair at the bench, reached below the bench and grinned.

“There’s a holster in here that I made – I used to have a heater in here; we didn’t have any court security.”

He was never able to get county officials to air condition the courtroom and they moved him out in 2001 and killed it as a court, he said.

It was when he first started using it in December of 1994 that he discovered the paintings.

He was in the basement looking for stuff to furnish his courtroom when he saw the frames leaned face first against a wall.

The history buff looked at the paintings, and “I could tell they were historically significant,” he said.

He had them cleaned and consulted documents he had on the old courthouse. There was a picture of Brady’s courtroom with the paintings hanging on walls in back.

The artworks went back up on those exact same walls.

Researchers with the Jackson County Historical Society traced their history and wrote reports. Among their findings:

They were painted and donated to the court in 1933 by Fred F. Brightman, an amateur artist who was a retired newspaper reporter.

When he was editor of the Independence Daily Democrat in 1908, an editor of a rival rag attacked him with a knife.

He later became the Independence correspondent for the Kansas City Journal Post until he retired in 1931.

The painting on the far left in front of the judge’s chair is called “Jackson’s Mantle on the Blue.”

It shows Andrew Jackson in military togs worn at the Battle of New Orleans with a blue mantle on his shoulders. He’s standing at the mouth of the Blue River on what is called Benton’s rock.

That is where legend says Missouri statesman Thomas Hart Benton predicted a great future for this area. Also in the painting is a log cabin that was Jackson County’s first courthouse, and many other things depicting area history.

Jackson’s right hand is on a book called “Thirty Years in Congress,” written by his one-time enemy, Benton.

The painting on the right, “Jefferson’s Seal in All Lands,” is a tribute to the life and deeds of Thomas Jefferson.

He wears the costume of fellow patriot Lafayette and looks into a seal that gave him the idea to visit France.

Jefferson’s seal has a picture of him and a French motto declaring the rights of man.

Jefferson returned to the United States, ready to write the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s left hand holds the declaration document up to the motto.

The white columns in the picture are the University of Missouri, which got a monument from Jefferson for having the first university of any state in the Louisiana Purchase territory.

Apples in a fruit basket represent the Bellflower species, which Jefferson is said to have introduced into the country.

There will probably be more impressive art unveiled Saturday at a new art museum going into the courthouse, but it may not be as complicated.

And it won’t have hung for decades overlooking all kinds of court cases.

The rededication ceremony begins at 2 p.m., 80 years from the exact date Truman opened his expanded version of the courthouse.

Ida McBeth will sing, and tours will be available until 5 p.m.

Scoville says he will be there.

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