Dedication Plaque Stirs Controversy

By R. H. Laird III

Copyright © 1977, 2003 by Davis Multimedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in November/December 1977, Volume 3, No. 3 of The Engravers Journal.
  Bob Meyer (left) and Stan Weston of the United States Department of Agriculture installing engraving plaque dedicating cafeteria to Alferd E. Packer.  

     Some people believe that Washington, D.C. contains more dedication plaques than any other city in the world. In a town where it is common proctice to name buildings, parks, traffic circles, bridges, fountains, and rooms after former presidents, congressmen, senators and other prominent Americans, it may very well be that Washington does lead the world in dedication plaques.
    There is seldom anything particularly unusual or controversial about an engraved dedication plaque – unless it becomes the subject of a bureaucratic controversy the likes of which could only happen in the nation’s capitol.
    Recently, several Department of Agriculture employees, disgruntled about the quality of food served in the cafeteria of Agriculture Department Building, purchased and installed a plaque dedicated the cafeteria as The Alferd Packer Memorial Grill. At the dedication ceremony of the plaque, Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland said the case of Alferd E. Packer, "exemplifies the spirit and the fare of this Agriculture Department cafeteria." However, after finding out who Packer was, the General Services Administration, which oversees the Agriculture building plaque, saying it was "in bad taste". Here is the story they had learned.
    In 1874, Packer had guided a group of five prospectors through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado when the group was stranded for over 60 days by a blizzard. When the weather finally improved, only Packer remained alive, but this he had managed only by killing and eating his companions.
    Packer was tried for his crime of cannibalism, and the presiding judge was quoted during the trial as saying, "There were only six Democrats in all of Hinsdale County and you, you man-eating (expletive deleted), you ate five of them. I sentence you to hang by the neck until you’re dead, dead, dead as a warning against further reducing the Democratic population of the county."
    Despite this pronouncement, Packer was not hanged and in fact was paroled in 1901. He died in a Denver suburb in 1907.

  Alferd E. Packer. Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Department.  


    The recent Packer dedication plaque was purchased for $29 by Bob Meyer and Stan Weston of the Agriculture Department (with their own money) and then donated to the U.S. Government. Therefore, when the plaque disappeared, it was assumed to be theft of Government property – a serious offense. The Agriculture Department was preparing to call in the FBI to investigate the crime when it was learned that it was the General Services Administration who removed the plaque.
    The controversy over the installation and removal of the Alferd Packer memorial plaque was further heightened when it was learned that the GSA’s regional office had given the Agriculture Department permission to mount the plaque, and that building manager Melvin Schick had acted on his own in removing it. It was Schick who felt the plaque was "in bad taste".
    Bob Meyer and Stan Weston, the donors of the plaque, disagreed and pointed to the fact that a similar plaque was placed at the University of Colorado (Boulder) grill in 1968 and is still there. The menu there includes Packerburgers and Packersnackers. Packer is something of a folk hero in Colorado.
    The Alferd E. Packer memorial plaque is now on display in the office of the Agriculture Department’s Stan Weston. When asked where the plaque will go from there, Weston replied, "We have had many requests (to borrow it) from school and college government classes. What can better illustrate the workings of government and bureaucracy than this engraved plaque?"
    The reasons for plaques, trophies, and other awards are absolutely endless. Though its beginning had such a somber aspect, this purposeful practical joke shows yet another type of motivation for plaques, trophies, and other engraved awards.