It may not reach the iconic status of the photo of the sailor kissing the dental assistant in Times Square at the end of World War II, published in Life Magazine. But one powerful Town Crier image from 20 years ago also reflected those post-war times and spoke to the hope for a better future represented in the faces of young children.
The image, captured by Los Altos resident Bob Simon, featured a curly-haired toddler on her father’s shoulders, reaching out to touch the “Cradle of Liberty” statue during its Fourth of July dedication in Shoup Park in 1998. The statue, created by then-resident and artist R.J. Truman, features a WWII-era soldier holding a similarly curly-haired baby in his arms, symbolizing his role in making the world safe for future generations.
As “official photographer” for the Veterans Memorial Association Committee organizing the event, Simon remembered the occasion well.
“My camera was at the ready for anything that might be important,” he said. “When Veronica Wharton, on her dad’s shoulders, reached out to touch the statue, my shutter finger came down fast.”
Only when looking through his pictures later did Simon realize fully what he had captured in that one shot – the statue, its sculptor and a father and daughter dressed for the Fourth of July doing something very telling.
“As a hobbyist photographer, I was delighted by my good fortune in getting such a shot,” he said. “A few days later, my own assessment of the photo was reinforced by the Crier’s decision to run it on page 1, as the paper reported on this special community event. In the years since, I’ve felt that it was no doubt my most significant photo. It says so much about the purpose of the statue and those who made it happen.”
The father and daughter went unidentified when the photo first ran on the cover of the Town Crier July 15, 1998. Nonetheless, the sleuth-y Simon managed to track down father Keith Wharton and daughter Veronica all these years later and began corresponding with them.
Keith, now a respected physician-scientist living in Lexington, Mass., was doing his residency at Stanford Medical Center at the time. Veronica, 3 years old in the 1998 photo, earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania and is now a software engineer working in San Francisco.
Father and daughter were both in Los Altos last month to visit the Shoup Park statue once again as well as meet up with Simon.
“I have to say, it’s held up very well,” Keith said, gazing at the statue. “It’s in great shape. It brings back a very special day and a special time in our lives.”
Understandably, Veronica did not remember that Fourth of July, but she appreciates being part of the moment.
“This is more of a memory for me than that was, this conversation,” she said.
The Whartons lived in a house on the corner of West Portola and Carmel avenues in Los Altos from 1994 to 2000.
“They ended up tearing down the house after we moved,” Keith said. “There’s an apricot tree in the front yard that we hung a swing from – that tree is still there.”
Keith heard about the dedication of “The Cradle of Liberty” from the artist herself, who lived in his neighborhood. Truman also has since moved away from Los Altos.
Keith remembered those days as a busy time, and, in fact, he and his daughter were rushing to get to the statue dedication on time.
“We were somewhere in San Jose, and I remembered there was going to be an unveiling here, so we were kind of rushing back,” he said. “I wanted to see it. I remember parking three or four blocks away because it was a big crowd. I threw (Veronica) on my shoulders and was just running with her. She said, ‘I want to go touch it.’”
Keith said he clipped the photo when it came out.
“I kept it all these years, because I don’t throw anything away,” he said.
“The Cradle of Liberty” is special for Keith, not only for his personal experience, but for what it represents.
“I did not serve in the military,” he said. “(But) I treasure the freedom we have in this country dearly, because of and in spite of all the political events going on in the world over the last few years.”
Although life was “incredibly busy” for him 20 years ago, Keith has fond memories of his time in Los Altos.
“This is a special town – it’s beautiful, very idyllic,” he said. “To be featured in that (photo) was really special.”
Bob Simon is among the leaders of a community effort to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the “Cradle of Liberty” installation July 4.
The “Salute to Vets” event, including remarks from Truman and Jay Brandon, co-chairman of the original committee, is scheduled 11:30 a.m. to noon at the statue site in Shoup Park.
The program will include a color guard, a keynote speech by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge and Los Altos Hills resident Socrates “Pete” Manoukian and an anniversary cake. The event will be part of the annual Glorious Fourth celebration at Shoup, which includes music, games and a picnic.