On March 5th around 4:30PM, I decided to take my time and look at a statue that I pass by almost everyday on the CSULB campus – the Forty-Niner Man. I go by this statue all the time, but it’s always just in my peripheral and I never really registered its existence properly. I guess what intrigued me the most about this public monument wasn’t the art itself, but the fact that I’ve been able to ignore it these past two years.
In trying to research the Forty-Niner Man, it’s no surprise I found the most information about it on the CSULB website. It was unveiled on March 29, 1967, sponsored by Circle K, and sculpted by Ben Barker. Probably the most interesting thing about this statue is its nickname, Prospector Pete, as he carries no paraphernalia that pertains to mining. This nickname also brings contrasting perspectives to the statue; hearing Prospector Pete can lead an image of an overexaggerated miner with a pickaxe much like the cartoon Yosemite Sam, but the statue itself is of a rugged man looking out into the distance, modeled by a CSULB former student from the 1960s. I’m sure the school would prefer the latter perspective of the statue, but students on campus have even found it offensive, saying “Prospectors are believed to be responsible for the killing of indigenous peoples of California” (“PROSPECTOR FACTS”). This take on the statue is definitely intriguing as the idea of the statue representing a prospector doesn’t seem to be the sculpture’s original intent, yet the university seems to embrace it. Questions of whether to keep the statue or not have been asked before, and I think it’s definitely worth discussing if this perspective of the Forty-Niner Man being a representation of prospectors has actual validity to it.
“PROSPECTOR FACTS.” CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY LONG BEACH, www.csulb.edu/prospector-pete/prospector-facts.