Lest you think this post-modern sculptural detail at left — one of many small treasures from the Blue Grotto — is merely a slapdash piece of whimsy made up of two found objects, allow me to explain its meaning as told to me directly by the artist, Randy Dalton.
There is a reason that it’s become a part of my show, BEAUTIFUL ZION: A BOOK OF THE DEAD. The Caged Unicorn was created about a decade ago to symbolize the extradition, conviction and life imprisonment of “the unicorn killer,” CEC neighbor Ira Einhorn (his surname meaning literally one horn; “the unicorn” was also Einhorn’s nickname).
Einhorn was a pal of ’60s radicals Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and involved with the first Earth Day celebrations in 1970. He also counted rock star Peter Gabriel among his friends and was sometimes paid well by socialites for serving as their New Age guru. Ira went on to murder his girlfriend, a young ballerina and privileged graduate of Bryn Mawr College named Holly Maddux, in 1977. The cold-blooded killing happened around the corner from the CEC in Ira’s home at 3411 Race Street.
Ira was a fixture in West Philadelphia, a charismatic and eccentric celebrity, community activist and nearby UPenn graduate who was no stranger to the CEC staff of artists and activists, some of whom also knew and admired Holly. Despite Ira’s pose as a hippie and supporter of love and nonviolence, he was known locally to be a physically abusive womanizer. When Holly tried to break up with Ira he killed her, stuffed her body in a trunk and hid it in his closet. 18 months later in 1979 police found her body there and arrested Ira, who didn’t seem surprised but refused to admit guilt, instead shrugging it off and telling officers, “you found what you found.”
“The unicorn killer,” as the media dubbed him, had his bail reduced thanks to his clever defense lawyer, future US Senator Arlen Specter. One of Ira’s wealthy friends paid the bail and he promptly fled to Europe before the murder trial began, perhaps also with the help of wealthy friends.
Ira was tried and convicted while living the good life in Europe under an assumed name and with a new Swedish wife. 16 years later in the early 1990s he was finally found in France and arrested. However France, which has no death penalty, refused to extradite him to Pennsylvania, a frying state, as part of its international human rights policy.
With some legal hoop-jumping, prosecutors in Pennsylvania were able to guarantee the French government that if found guilty Einhorn would not be executed. In the end he was tried in absentia, found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. Still, France delayed 8 more years before finally extraditing him, only after feeling certain he would get a fair retrial. Einhorn was given a new trial, again found guilty, and finally began serving his life sentence in Pennsylvania 2002.
Coincidentally, around the same time Holly went missing in the late 1970s someone donated two holly trees to the CEC which Randy Dalton planted on the grounds. They were a male and female tree (both are required in order to produce berries). The staff named the female holly tree Holly in honor of the missing Holly Maddux, making it a living vigil on public display in a show of local support for the victim.
When Einhorn was arrested they celebrated, ceremonially wrapping the male tree loosely in barbed wire, symbolically “imprisoning” Einhorn. By the time of Einhorn’s extradition in 2001 the male tree had caught a disease and died, and a joyful ceremony was held to uproot the tree and discard it. “Holly” has continued to thrive on the CEC grounds to this day (pictured at right).
An old photo of Holly Maddux also hangs on the wall of the Blue Grotto near the Caged Unicorn. Today there is also a memorial Myspace page in honor of Holly. Ira’s grisly act was covered in detail in the New York Times and Time magazine and was covered in depth on TruTV. (Another website provides gruesome crime scene photos of Holly’s decaying corpse in Ira’s trunk, to which I won’t bother providing a link.)
Although neither the CEC nor its staff were directly involved with the case, their physical, social and emotional proximity to the events left its mark on their psyches and even crept into the Blue Grotto, which is perhaps blue for more than one reason.
The more I get to know the joint the more it seems an appropriate match for the darkness and light traversed in BEAUTIFUL ZION: A BOOK OF THE DEAD. Tickets are available here. The show closes 9/17/11.
- Jeffrey Stanley, East Passyunk, South Philly
Jeffrey Stanley is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker and recent transplant to Philadelphia from New York City. He is a faculty member at New York University Tisch School of the Arts and will be teaching two theatre courses at Drexel University this fall. His solo show Beautiful Zion: A Book of the Dead is currently running in the Philly Fringe at the Blue Grotto in the cellar of the CEC in West Philly. For tickets and more info please see http://www.brain-on-fire.com/beautifulzion .