Marco Garcia/AP

"It gives my heart great peace that my ancestors can go home," tribe member Eva Rowan said of the returned totem pole

October 24, 2015 12:00 AM

A tribal totem poll taken from Alaska by Drew Barrymore‘s grandfather has been returned home.

Golden-age screen legend John Barrymore spotted the artifact in an unoccupied village while yachting on the Alaskan coast in 1931. On his instructions, crew members sawed the pole into three pieces and brought it on board, University of Alaska Anchorage professor Steve Langdon tells the Associated Press.

The approximately 40-foot-tall totem poll was then reassembled and displayed in the garden of Barrymore’s California estate, where it remained until his death in 1942.

The piece was then purchased by another famous Hollywood actor, horror star Vincent Price. Price and his wife adorned their own garden with the totem pole until 1981, when they donated it to the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Langdon became aware of the item during a visit to Alaska, where he recognized a photograph of Price standing next to the giant totem poll. “It was totally out of place,” he remembered. “Here’s this recognizable Hollywood figure in a backyard estate with a totem pole … that was surrounded by cactus.”

CSU Archives/Everett/Alamy

Through his research, the professor learned that the pole was used in burial rituals, and that it at one point contained human remains. The body was allegedly removed from the object before Barrymore put it in his garden, but Langdon does not know where the remains were moved.

Officials at the Honolulu Museum of Art did not know the pole was stolen, and in 2012 Langdon traveled to Hawaii to inspect the pole and begin the process of returning it to Alaskan tribal leaders. The move was funded by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Process.

Seven Tlingit tribal members traveled to Honolulu on Thursday, and “wore lei, sang somber songs, handed out gifts and thanked Hawaii” for protecting the pole over the years, according to the AP.

“We too also are ocean people,” Jonathan Rowan, master carver and cultural educator told AP. “We live on an island also.”

His daughter Eva Rowan added, “It gives my heart great peace that my ancestors can go home. I feel my father’s people here. I feel my grandfather’s people here, giving us strength right now.”

The pole was reportedly one of more than 100 totem poles that once stood in the old village of Tuxecan on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, the museum told AP.

Now only two of those totem poles remain, both in Klawock, a village of 800 people where the tribe moved, museum adds.

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