Colonel Sanders statue lost in 1985 recovered from river in Japan

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

A long-lost statue of the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) Harland 'Colonel' Sanders was finally pulled up from a river in Osaka Prefecture, western Japan. Though covered with mud, he was still smiling as he was 23 and a half years before. In October 1985, the statue was tossed into the river by some overjoyed fans of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team, which led to a 'legend' known as "the Curse of Colonel Sanders."

On Tuesday afternoon, the upper body of the reinforced plastic statue was found unexpectedly. Osaka City had a plan to lay a paved path along Dōtonbori River, and a contractor diver noticed a figure near the bottom while checking for unexploded World War II bombs. The workers pulled it up, and Tigers fans among them recognized the figure as the Colonel. The lower body was also found on Wednesday morning. The statue still lacks some parts like eyeglasses, feet and left hand, but the contractor reportedly says it's almost impossible for the rest to be found, due to lack of visibility in the water.

Osaka City will return the statue, about 180 cm in height, to KFC Japan. Reportedly the company is considering displaying the statue at its franchise in the Tigers home Hanshin Kōshien Stadium in Nishinomiya City, Hyōgo Prefecture (neighboring Osaka Pref.).

The story of the Hanshin Tigers and the Colonel statue dates back to October 1985. Because the team got the Central League title for the first time in 21 years, ecstatic fans crowded around Dōtonbori. Some were so overjoyed that they jumped into the river for the team players. Unfortunately no one among them looked like Randy Bass, the team's star slugger. Near them was a KFC franchise (closed 1998), and they presumably found resemblance between Bass and 'Colonel' Sanders (both were bearded). They started to chant "Baassu, Baassu" and tossed the Colonel statue into the river in honor of their hero. The team also won the Japan Series later in that year.

However, this was the Hanshin Tigers' last triumph. The team soon fell into a long-term slump, and finished at the bottom among 6 Central League teams in 10 of 16 seasons by 2001. During the slump, some baseball lovers in Japan jokingly said "it was brought by the Curse of Colonel Sanders," which became a legend. The Tigers again got the League title in 2003 and 2005, but the fans' dream of another triumph has not yet come true.

Asked whether the 'curse' will be lifted by the discovery, Hanshin Tigers manager Akinobu Mayumi said "now we can not lay (our luck) to it." A KFC Japan press officer said, "Truly, Sanders is a 'gentleman'. The 'curse' must end, and he must back Hanshin up to be a Japan Series Champion."