Town panics at widely shared image of man stuck atop its new $1.2 million artwork

This hoax photo launched a lot of calls for police assistance in Hopewell, Virginia.
This hoax photo launched a lot of calls for police assistance in Hopewell, Virginia. Screengrab from Facebook

A widely shared photo of a man stuck atop a 65-foot-tall ‘H’ sculpture in the town of Hopewell, Virginia, created such a stir this week that police were forced to issue an alert Friday.

The photo is a social media hoax.

“We have received a lot of calls and concern regarding this,” says the police department’s Facebook post. “We want you to know that the photo has been Photoshopped, and not a real image.”

Perhaps fearing the image might give people bad ideas, the department added a followup: “We hope that common sense will prevent this from occurring. If police or fire have to respond for this, it will be handled accordingly.”

The photo first popped up on Facebook, police said.

How the hoax got started may never be known, but the big steel H has been a sore subject since word got out last year that it cost $1.2 million, reported TV station WRIC.

For months, people have joked on social media about the cost and what the H might really stand for.

Artist Ralph Helmick’s “iconic sculpture” sits near the Route 10 bridge over the Appomattox River in Hopewell, and is intended to serve as a community gateway, says the Cameron Foundation, which paid half the cost. The H is 51 feet tall and sits on a 9-foot base, says the foundation.

Facebook response to the police post has been largely sarcastic, though one commenter, including some who expressed a hope that the entire sculpture had been Photoshopped into the town.

“Thank god! For a minute I thought Hopewell actually wasted tax payer money building a hideous H,” posted Michael Stroud on Facebook.

”That’s what scaffolding is for right?” posted Jeff Farley on Facebook.

“Nearly everyone I know have been saying someone is going to climb it since it was built,” wrote Aaron Zevgolis.

“What the H?” wrote Jonita Boney.

One commenter, Dickie Dennis, claimed he was the culprit responsible for the photo and apologized. He also confirmed suspicions of some that the man Photoshopped onto the H is the guy who was arrested for climbing a fence during the Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway in 2014.

“I’m deeply saddened by what I’ve caused by sharing a picture that a friend created for me. I really meant no harm. I only wish that it would have been looked upon as humor. I love this town, always have. Please accept my apologies, I’m sorry,” he posted on the police department’s Facebook page.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.