The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: An Unsolved Mystery

Dr. Sabin and Mr. O'Connor

Albert Sabin and Basil O’Connor pose with Dr. Sabin’s bust, sculpted by Edmond Romulus Amateis.

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) recently launched, and, of course, I wanted to see if there was anything Sabin-related in the collection. Doing a quick search for Albert Sabin revealed a bust which resides at the National Portrait Gallery. According to the DPLA, this bust, a 1966 cast after 1958 terra cotta original, was originally sculpted by Edmond Romulus Amateis.[1] This bust was originally created for the Polio Wall of Fame in Warm Springs, Georgia. We have a photograph in our collection of Dr. Sabin and National Foundation President Basil O’Connor posing with the bust created by Amateis.

Diving further into the Sabin collection, we also have a couple of letters between the artist and Dr. Sabin. These letters reveal an unsolved mystery…

In 1974, Mr. Amateis wrote a letter to Dr. Sabin regarding the strange theft of his terra cotta bust from the first floor of the South Lake Memorial Hospital in Clermont, Florida. Amateis included a newspaper clipping which read:

The Clermont Police Department is continuing the investigation. Since the bust is of no value as to material composition, it is earnestly hoped that it will be returned to the hospital so that it may resume its former place. The bust is not a copy so that a replica cannot be obtained.[2]

Dr. Sabin’s reply to Mr. Amateis was rather humorous, saying, “I am sure the only reason they would want [the bust] is because it is a remarkable example of your artistry as a sculptor.”[3] He hoped to hear if the Clermont Police Department found a motive for the theft. Unfortunately, we do not have any letters in the collection that contain information about a motive or if the bust was ever recovered.

Whatever happened to the terra cotta bust originally sculpted by Mr. Amateis? Was it ever recovered? We may never know…

Note: The photograph in this blog can be found at
[1] “Albert Bruce Sabin,” Digital Public Library of America, accessed 22 April 2013.
[2] Letter from Amateis, Edmond to Sabin, Albert B. dated 1974-04-12.
[3] Letter from Sabin, Albert B. to Amateis, Edmond dated 1974-04-18.

In 2010, the University of Cincinnati Libraries received a $314,258 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to digitize the correspondence and photographs of Dr. Albert B. Sabin. This digitization project has been designated a NEH “We the People” project, an initiative to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture through the support of projects that explore significant events and themes in our nation’s history and culture and that advance knowledge of the principles that define America. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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