Delaware's Sleeping Giant: Bethany's Chief Little Owl Totem


There is a legend among us....

... quietly standing vigil over the town of Bethany Beach. He is not the first guardian to take this watch, but third to wear this mantle, following in the footsteps of his brethren who have fallen victim to time and Mother Nature herself. Day and night, through sun, rain, snow and winds, this giant solemnly holds his ground, welcoming the weary traveler and local residents alike. And if fate stands to reason, he will remain at his post long after you and I have passed away. I speak - or dare I say "whisper" - of Delaware's own Whispering Giant, The totem pole of Chief Little Owl".


Chief Little Owl

He is the sole Giant of Delaware, but not alone in his crusade. There are others who unite this brotherhood, standing watch across the United States and into regions of Canada. They are known as theTrail of Whispering Giants. Created by Peter Wolf Toth, each would serve a singular purpose as well as Toth's life mission - promote unity among all people.


The current 24 foot totem is the 69th creation in this epic collection. The first incarnation for Delaware was placed at the intersection of Route 1 and 26 in Bethany Beach, during 1976 (this was the 22nd creation in the line). For nearly two decades, it battled nature and termites until it was finally struck down by a fierce storm in 1992. The remains were eventually transported to Nanticoke Indian Museum in Millsboro.


Answering the call

A second totem was sculpted by Dennis Beach, a world champion chainsaw carver. It was made from white oak and served as the replacement until 2000 when it had become riddled with rot, forcing the city of Bethany to remove it.



Return of the Chief

For two years, the post stood empty as the seasons changed and passed by. Travelers and residence who would pass through, recalled the days when their arrivals and departures were silently acknowledged by the wooden sentinel with his north facing eagle headpiece to guide them.

Yet unbeknownst to the general populace, far away in the Pacific Northwest, a fallen red cedar log had been personally selected to be reborn into the next visage of the shoreline landmark. The hand that would fashion the work would be the original creator, Toth, and the chosen wood was expected to last between 50 and 150 years. On Monday, July 15, 2002 a 45 minute ceremony officially welcomed the totem, including a ritual dedication performed by Charles Clark, former assistant of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe and descendant of Chief Little Owl. During the event, Clark expressed the gratitude of his heritage in song, prayer and tobacco.

While the history of the Bethany Beach totem is one filled with struggles and destruction, it also serves as reminder that we can restore things. When we choose to step in and fill a void, we're not just filling a proverbial hole, but we are securing a foundation for our futures. The Chief Little Owl totem may be a symbol of unity and special to the city of Bethany, but as part of the Trail of Whispering Giants, it is piece of a much larger picture.

So too, are we.