Mary Tutwiler

Hadrian's waltz out of New Iberia

by Mary Tutwiler

New Iberia’s oldest resident may be moving. The 7-foot-tall, full length statue of the Roman emperor Hadrian, which has been housed in a special glass atrium in the IberiaBank building on St. Peter Street in New Iberia since about 1980, could be on the auction block sometime soon. The building is up for sale, and IberiaBank is working with specialists in antiquities to ascertain its value. “We don’t have firm plans yet,” says executive vice president and director of communication for IberiaBank Beth Ardoin. “If we don’t sell it, we will keep it in New Iberia.”

Carved in 127 A.D. to commemorate the emperor Hadrian, 117 to 138 A.D.,  a Spanish general who is best known for the great wall he built across England to protect roman holdings from the barbarian Picts, the statue is the only extant full length portrait of the emperor in the United States. It was removed from Rome in 1820 by the 4th Earl of Darnley, and brought to Coban Hall in Kent, England. From there, it came into the possession of New Orleans collector Wilson J. Raker, until it was sold at auction by Sothby and Co. in 1957. IberiaBank purchased the statue for $3,000. Its worth today is speculated anywhere from $300,000 to nearly $1 million.

According to next door neighbor and New Iberia historian Paul Schwing, at first the statue was inside the bank. “When they first put it up outside, it was facing the Baptist Church, right across the street,” he says. It stood on a plinth outdoors, unprotected from the weather, and pranks. During church one Sunday, “someone put a can of beer in his hand, put a bra on him and he had some panties handing in the crook of his arm. I called the janitor for the bank and told him we couldn’t have the people coming out of church looking at that,” Schwing recalls. The ancient statue lost one of his fingers during that time as well. “That’s when they put him under glass,” says Schwing.

The statue of Hadrian is a tourist attraction in New Iberia, and Schwing, a town booster, often walks across the street from his flower shop to hand out brochures to visitors and chat about his ancient neighbor. “I don’t want anybody to move it,” he says. “And I don’t know how they will. It weighs nearly a ton.”