Edwin Drummond, a mountaineer and poet who made international headlines by scaling landmarks like the Statue of Liberty as a form of protest, died April 23 at a care facility in Oakland, California. He was 73.
His son, Haworth Ward-Drummond, said that the cause was pneumonia and that Drummond had had Parkinson’s disease since 1994.
Drummond was already well known in climbing circles as a sort of alpine poet laureate before he decided, in the late 1970s, to use the talents he had honed on European peaks and El Capitan in Yosemite National Park to draw attention to causes he considered important. He faced legal repercussions for climbing various buildings and monuments, which he saw as a small price to pay for battling injustice.
In 1978, he climbed Nelson’s Column in London with Colin Rowe, another mountaineer, to protest apartheid; the next year he climbed Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to protest the incarceration of Elmer G. Pratt, a Black Panther who had been sentenced to life in prison in 1972 after he was convicted of killing a teacher. (Pratt spent years trying to prove that he was framed before his conviction was vacated in 1997.)
Drummond climbed a third of the way up the Statue of Liberty with Stephen Rutherford, a younger climber, on May 10, 1980, also to draw attention to Pratt’s case. Once the two climbers had ascended, they opened a 25-foot-long banner that said, referring to Pratt by his Panther name: “Liberty was framed. Free Geronimo Pratt.” They spent 24 hours nestled in the furls of lady liberty’s tunic, occasionally shouting answers to queries from reporters, then descended and surrendered to authorities.
“As the men, their arms handcuffed behind them, were led away by park rangers, Drummond said that Mr. Pratt had been framed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” an article in The New York Times said. “He added, ‘This has been a climb for justice.’”
Park Service officials initially accused Drummond and Rutherford of doing so much damage to the statue with pitons and other climbing tools that $80,000 worth of repairs would be necessary. Drummond said that he and Rutherford had used large rubber suction cups to anchor themselves to the statue and had not driven any pitons through its thin copper skin.
Both men were soon released on bail, and the charges against them were eventually reduced to misdemeanors — an indication that whatever damage they caused was considerably less expensive than the initial estimates.
For a climber of Drummond’s caliber, the side of a monument might as well have been a ladder. He soloed the Nose on El Capitan, the 3,000-foot-tall sheer granite cliff that has bedeviled generations of climbers, in 1973, and he tallied challenging first ascents in England, Wales and Northern Europe.