Harrison County

With a big reveal coming in Biloxi, relive the saga of the iconic Golden Fisherman statue

A new Golden Fisherman will soon cast his famous net toward the Biloxi Bay, taking on a third life since the first statue was erected in 1977.

It won't be as large as the original 15-foot statute that weighed a ton and resembled a fisherman casting a 20-foot net, according to Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum Director Robin Krohn David.

And it apparently won't look like the original monument, which was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and then stolen, dismantled and partially recovered.

A 7-foot bronze sculpture, crafted and shipped to Biloxi from Italy, will be unveiled at 7:15 p.m. Thursday on the museum's lawn. The Golden Fisherman will stand on a 6-foot granite base with plaques naming more than 800 seafood industry families, David said. It also will include names of the kings and queens from the annual Biloxi Shrimp Festival and Blessing of the Fleet.

But what will he look like? For years, public opinion on the original Golden Fisherman ranged from striking and symbolic to, well, ugly and the brunt of jokes.

The public can get its first look at the new statue at the unveiling, David said. The museum is next to Point Cadet just on the Biloxi side of the Biloxi Bay Bridge.

"After four decades, the monument designed to commemorate the Mississippi Coast's seafood heritage and pay tribute to generations of commercial fishermen who contributed to the vibrant economy and culture of the Mississippi Gulf Coast will once again rise in honor of the Gulf Coast fisherman," David said.

Circumstances surrounding the Golden Fisherman have ranged from high hopes to disappointments and from tragedy to crime.

Here's a glance at its history:

  • Harry Reeks, a World War II combat artist, created the original monument using molten metals — donated from schooners and trawlers and bronze silica — with a final touch of a gold covering.

  • The Golden Fisherman was unveiled at the intersection of what was Magnolia Mall and Howard Mall on March 4, 1977. It was touted as an example of what urban renewal could do. The city used $22 million in federal funds for a new downtown face by tearing down buildings, creating false fronts and canopies to cover up the old architecture, Sun Herald archives show.

  • The Fisherman outstretched his large cast net in an area that, through urban revitalization, became known as Vieux Marche Mall, and would have a one way street by 1994.

  • The construction of a hospital in the 1980s destroyed an amphitheater that had been built near the monument. With the changing landscape, the Golden Fisherman then outstretched his net near a broken fountain to the back of the hospital.

  • In 2000, Main Street Biloxi, which works toward revitalization, and the museum began discussing the possibility of moving the Golden Fisherman to Point Cadet, where the statute would cast his net toward the Biloxi Bay.

  • In 2002, the monument was moved to Point Cadet near the museum as Vieux Marche began to have financial difficulties. Biloxi officials had plans to update plaques on the monument with the names of seafood families that once surrounded the Golden Fisherman.

  • When Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005, storm surge broke the Fisherman's foot and he toppled, falling upside down, and the museum, a couple of miles from the statue, washed away.

  • City workers moved the fisherman to the former museum location in June 2006. A week later, someone stole the statue, a city press release said. Rewards of up to $15,000 were offered.

  • Within a few days, the statue was found in a creek in Mobile County. It was headless. Biloxi police said someone saw the sculpture in a neighbor's yard and recognized it. The statue had been ditched in a creek. The fisherman's body had been dismembered, but the parts couldn't be sold as scrap because the statue was made of an alloy, police said. A Semmes, Alabama, man was arrested.

  • The fisherman's remains were returned to Biloxi the same month on a flatbed truck that carried his torso, legs and arms. Damage from Katrina and the theft made it impossible to save the original Golden Fisherman, a museum official said. Parts of the original statue will be used for ornamental work, such as oyster shells, mullet and crabs that will be placed in a fountain to be built in Phase II of the Golden Fisherman project.

  • Riemann Monuments received the bid for the work to build a new statue. Helping to pay the costs were the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area, Mississippi Department on Marine Resources/Tidelands Public Trust Fund Grand and the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation.

  • Workers used a large crane on Wednesday to put the statue into place on its pedestal.

  • On May 31, the public can attend the 7:15 p.m unveiling and see a bronze sculpture crafted in Parma, Italy, by the Caggiati Foundry.

  • You can make a donation toward the costs on a Go Fund Me page named Golden Fisherman Fountain.
Robin Fitzgerald can be reached at 228-896-2307 or @robincrimenews

If you go

What: Unveiling of new Golden Fisherman statue

When: 7:15 p.m. Thursday

Where:Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum at Point Cadet