The two women who dismantled and hauled away the iconic Poet’s Table furniture and journals told Custer State Park law enforcement they did so for one reason: it was an eyesore.
Kobee Stalder, visitor services program manager at Custer State Park, where the green table, chairs and book shelves have sat since the 1960s, said the women, who are in their 20s, felt Poet’s Table was “destroying the Black Hills and it didn’t belong there because it wasn’t there originally.”
The women apparently did not like people continuing to leave things there, thought it was a nuisance and should be removed.
Why the women thought they could remove Poet’s Table from a state park is anybody’s guess, Stalder said.
“I’m not sure why they felt they could do that,” he said. “What took place in their mind I don’t know.”
Whether or not the women will be charged with a crime remains to be seen. Stalder said park officials spent Tuesday consulting with South Dakota State Game, Fish & Parks officials to determine what the next step should be. Legally, the items at Poet’s Table are considered abandoned property, but since it has been in the park so long, the park can claim it as park property, which means charges of theft or vandalism of park property could be pursued.
The incident occurred Saturday, and by Sunday there was a full-fledged firestorm about the incident on social media. Witnesses posted photos of the two women packing the table down the hill and another photo with the table and chairs in the back of a truck. There was also a short video of one of the women sawing the table in half with a hand saw.
Stalder said park officials are baffled that so many people witnessed what was happening, but failed to call either the park or the Custer County Sheriff’s Office. However, the photos and videos posted did help them locate the suspects, who eventually called the Custer County Sheriff’s Office to confess, likely because of the social media uproar that ensued.
“I didn’t hear anything about [why the women turned themselves in], so I can’t speculate on that,” Stalder said. “It would make sense.”
A Custer State Park ranger went to Pennington County Monday to collect the furniture. The women had put Poet’s Table into a dumpster and it is now in several pieces, either because it was cut up further or broken more as it was transported. The women had the bookshelf, chairs and journals in their home. Stalder said he did not know what the women planned to do with them.
He didn’t know if the women had been to Poet’s Table before or how long they had been planning to remove the items, but said it was obviously a premeditated event because the women took a saw up to the location. Since they live in Pennington County, he said, it’s probable they were aware of the location.
Custer County Sheriff Marty Mechaley said his office was swarmed with calls and messages—both via email and Facebook—when word got out about what had happened. He and Custer County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Steve McMillin spent a great deal of time answering those messages, many of which were derogatory toward the sheriff’s office, park and anybody thought to be involved.
“The disappointing part was people throwing out false information, which only took more time out of everybody’s day to try to solve the case,” Mechaley said. “I think the park did a really good job. It’s very unfortunate it happened.”
The sheriff’s office posted that it and Custer State Park officials were investigating and later posted that it had identified the suspects, but a post later Sunday night said the suspects have not been identified. The sheriff’s office wrote that the earlier post was due to miscommunication.
The conspiracy theories included two women from the eastern part of the county who had been to Poet’s Table recently and left a note, leading some to believe they were responsible. Other innocent people were targets of the public’s ire, as well.
It is that frenzy—along with threats toward those who did it—that led law enforcement to so far keep secret the names of the two women responsible. Should they be charged with a crime, however, their names will become public information.
The table was first placed in the park around 50 years ago by John Raeck, a man who loved the Black Hills and called himself “The Vagabond Poet.”
Stalder said it seems the women didn’t realize—or perhaps didn’t care—about the historical significance of Poet’s Table.
“(Maybe) they didn’t realize how big of a deal and how iconic a piece of the Black Hills this is,” he said. “It’s an historical icon that brought a lot of enjoyment to people in this area.”
Ever since Raeck placed the table there, visitors have climbed to the alcove to relax, read some of the journals, add to the journals or make their mark on the table.
It didn’t take long for people to begin offering to replace the table, also. The park asked people not to put anything in the site, but Stalder said park officials are working to figure out what they can do with the now recovered original table. Discussions are being held to potentially work with volunteers to incorporate the top of the old table onto a new table or somehow put the old table up there in some form as memorabilia. No official decisions have been made.
“We’re working through a lot of things today we didn’t expect to have to deal with and we never thought would happen,” Stalder said Tuesday.
The park intends to replace the items, including the table, in some form, despite the best efforts of the women who believed they were doing a good deed by removing the items.
“That was their mentality. It was an eyesore on the Black Hills and they were adamant they were going to remove it because it didn’t belong there,” Stalder said. “I’m not certain why they felt that was OK.”