Random History: Sidewalk Swastikas

In 1925, when few outside of Munich had ever heard of the Nazis, Corvalliste A.J. Chesley was pouring a new concrete slab at the northwest corner of Tenth Street and Harrison Boulevard. Someone (probably the owner of the house at the corner) decided Chesley’s crew should do something special with the slab and add a really pretty decoration.

They stamped an old good luck sign into all four corners of the slab, a nice tidy square symbol that fit neatly into each corner, never guessing how much trouble would eventually result from their innocent use of the swastika.

Swastikas, at the time, didn’t attract very much attention, probably because they were more widely associated back then with Buddhism or ancient India or Navajo culture, rather than with anything European. Even the word “swastika” came from the Hindus. The symbol, sometimes called the fylfot, gammadion, or hackenkreuz, long predated the Nazi party.

In the 1960s, someone painted the swastikas black, surrounded by white circles which were surrounded by red squares, making them look like little Nazi flags.  The property owner, unamused, tried to scrub the paint away, but traces of it were still visible for many years.

In the 1980s, the swastikas were plastered over with a thin layer of cement to try to erase them, but they remained visible.

Finally, some time after the turn of the millennium, someone had had enough: the entire slab was torn out and replaced with a new one, even though, like the rest of Mr. Chesley’s work, it could have easily lasted for decades more.

Walking past that corner today, you have to be an old Corvallisite to know why that one slab at the corner is so much newer than the others. Considering the noxious resurgence of fascism in the current year, though, it’s in everyone’s interest that the slab is long gone.


By John Burt