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Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina
Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina
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  • Monument Name

    Hippopotamus Statue, Chapel Hill

  • Type


  • Subjects

    Removed Monuments

    Animal Monuments

  • Creator

    Robert Gaston, Sculptor

  • City

    Chapel Hill

  • County


  • Description

    For 13 years (1982-1995), this full-scale cement sculpture of a hippopotamus was located in the Mill Creek branch off Bolinwood Drive in Chapel Hill. Local children frequently played on it. In June of 1995 the Hippo disappeared suddenly. See controversies for details about the great hippo kidnapping.

  • Dedication Date

    No dedication but it was placed in the creek in 1982.

  • Decade


  • Geographic Coordinates

    35.924380 , -79.050630 View in Geobrowsemap pin

  • Supporting Sources

      "Hip Hip Hooray - A Wild Goose, Er, Hippo Chase Proved to be a Summer Delight, Intriguing Residents and Newspaper Readers," Chapel Hill Herald (Chapel Hill, NC), Wednesday, August 2, 1995

      "Hippo," Art Inventories Catalog, Smithsonian American Art Museum, SIRIS,, (accessed February 2, 2012) Link

      "News You Probably Missed," Network World, August 7, 1995, 59, (accessed February 8, 2012) Link

      Broili, Susan. "Caller's Fish Story Widens Hippo Search," Chapel Hill Herald (Chapel Hill, NC), July 30, 1995

      Broili, Susan. "Hippo Finally Surfaces - Sculpture Sits in Owner's Back Yard," Chapel Hill Herald (Chapel Hill, NC), Monday, July 31, 1995

      Broili, Susan. "Owner Says Hippo's Home to Stay," Chapel Hill Herald (Chapel Hill, NC), August 1, 1995

      Child, Lee Harrison. "Blue Heaven: A Chapel Hill Memory Album," in Close to Home: Revelations and Reminiscences by North Carolina Authors, Edited by Lee Harrison Child, (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1996), 17, (accessed February 8, 2012) Link

      Hodge, Sharon Brooks, and Mark Schultz. "Ominous Photo Submerges Hippo into Deeper Mystery," Chapel Hill Herald (Chapel Hill, NC), July 29, 1995

      Hodge, Sharon Brooks, and Susan Broili. "Will the Owner of the Hippo Please Stand? - Concrete Custody Battle Brewing Over River Horse," Chapel Hill Herald (Chapel Hill, NC), August 5, 1995

      Hodge, Sharon Brooks. "Reward Offered: Who's Hiding the Hippo? - Sleuthing in Concrete Caper Turns Up 4 or 5 Hard Hats -- & a Rhino," Chapel Hill Herald (Chapel Hill, NC), July 26, 1995

      Lenchek, Becky Beeston. "Better to Build a New Hippo Than Sculpture," Chapel Hill Herald (Chapel Hill, NC), September 17, 1995

  • Public Site


  • Materials & Techniques

    Cement sculpture

  • Sponsors

    Gerry Barrett

  • Monument Cost

    Estimated value in 1995 was $5,000

  • Monument Dedication and Unveiling

    No dedication was held. Mr. Barrett simply placed the sculpture in its location.

  • Subject Notes

    Gerry Barrett commissioned the hippo in honor of the stories his father told him as a child. As Barrett told the Chapel Hill Herald, "As a little kid, my dad made up a story about a magic hippo that rode in the trunk of our car. It wandered down to Morgan Creek. The hippo was the subject of bedtime stories for a number of years."

  • Controversies

    In June of 1995 the Hippo disappeared suddenly. Local newspapers sought information and Realtor Eunice Brock offered $200 for information leading to its location. Reports came in of people seeing it moving in different areas of the county but the information did not lead to the Hippo. Shortly thereafter a photograph was delivered to the Chapel Hill Herald. The image was of a masked man holding a jack hammer to the cement Hippo's head. A caption read: "Back off or the Hippo buys it." Eventually a police officer found the statue in Chatham county and the truth was revealed.

    Due to ongoing development in the original location, the man who commissioned the statue in 1982, Gerry Barrett, had relocated the hippo to his back yard in Chatham County. Barrett later explained to the Chapel Hill Herald, "The hippo called and had a couple of concerns. One concern was a crew of workmen on the premises cutting down all the shrubs and bushes. Four styles of homes and a horrendous road were being built. She felt it was time to move to a more tranquil setting."

    It was suggested the Hippo be relocated Umstead Park near Bolin Creek, but Gerry Barrett decided to keep it at his home. A dispute arose over who owned the statue, Barrett or the owner of the land Rolf Sass. The hippo stood on land that Barrett put under an easement to the town; however, due the easement not being accepted, technically the land was owned by Rolf Sass who had bought the lot. Once the neighboring land was developed, Barrett, assuming it was on city land, and he still owned it, decided to remove it. However, Sass claimed it was his. In the end Barrett ended up with it and the statue has since been relocated to Atlantic, North Carolina.

  • Relocated


  • Removed


  • Former Locations

    The monument was moved at least twice: once to Chatham county from its original location and later to Atlantic, North Carolina. As the records do no reveal where exactly the hippo stood originally, the latitude and longitude provided are an estimate of its original location.

  • Post Dedication Use

    In 1995 a proposal was put forward for a gun sculpture as a memorial for victims of gun violence. A letter to the editor published in the Chapel Hill Hearald suggested that a new Hippo, that children could play on, would be a better use of the funds.

  • Materials & Assembly Cost

    After the kidnapping the cost to build a new one was estimated at $3000 plus another $2000 to transport it. An effort was made to raise the funds but nothing came of it. In 2012, a group of UNC students began raising the funds to commission a new hippo.

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