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A 'Perl' of Great Price

The story of Perl Totman

While strolling through East Muskingham Park in Marietta, Ohio, I was astonished at the beautiful tree carvings that you see here.  Realms of history, almost coming to life.  It was here that I  met the very man who has left a forever heritage for us.  However, it was more astonishing to hear his life story...

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Just as a pearl is destined to the waves of water,

so was this Perl through the waves of his life.


Rightly named Perl by his father who was a mail carrier in Marietta, Ohio for over 27 years.  His father had walked over 110,000 miles, his supervisor had calculated, in all kinds of weather to deliver U.S. Mail.  But Perl was prone to the waves of water.  In 1948, Perl joined the Navy and was stationed on Naval Air carriers.  After his discharge, Perl moved to Florida, which is also surrounded by a lot of water.  So how did this 'waterdog' become a legendary tree carver, giving dead trees life again ???  Well, let's touch on his police experience first.

Things were getting pretty tough for Perl in Florida so he decided to head to Norfolk, Virginia where some of his friends were stationed there in the Navy.  In Norfolk, Perl joined the police force.  He served two years in Norfolk and then transferred back to Miami, Florida to their police department.  Perl was on his eighth year of service on the Miami Police Force when he was shot at point blank in the chest.  He was not wearing a bullet proof vest because bullet proof vests did not come on the scene until the 1970's.  The shooting happened in 1964.  The bullet blasted hard into Perl's chest.  Here's Perl's own words, "I got shot through the chest.  The gun was real close to me when it went off.  Real close!  I tell people that my guardian angel is going to require time and a half when I meet him cause he hasn't been able to take his eyes off me."  Under great medical care and prayers, Perl recovered but had to retire in 1966 due to the lung injury he had endured.  But that did not stop Perl.

Being 'retired' now, Perl decided to take up welding.  He did welding for 23 years and then bought a sign concession trailer and carved names on wood.  But Perl just could not shake his traveling and adventurous spirit.  He traveled 48 states and 16 countries in very unusual ways.

Perl went back up to Virginia and worked for his passage on a German trader ship that was heading to Spain.  Then he hitchhiked across Spain clear up into France.  Soon he got a bicycle and bicycled 750 miles across France and as far down as Ivon La, Italy.  Then he traveled by train and boat to Greece and Crete.  When Perl traveled back, he decided to go through central Italy and through a 12 mile long tunnel under the Alps and into Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and then down to Austria.  He went over to Paris then down to Madrid and over to Lisbon.  In Portugal, he met a ship - the same ship that he had worked on for his first passage - and they brought him to Boston.  From there he hitchhiked to Ohio.  But the water kept calling to its 'Perl".

Perl had heard about a tow boat called the White Gold that sometimes went to Florida.  Perl had built a kayak, so he put a little two horse power motor on it and was on his way to find the White Gold.

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Talking to some rivermen along Cincinnati, they advised Perl not to go into the lower Mississippi with such a small craft.  Said it was much too dangerous.  So in Cincinnati, Perl reached out to eight or nine towing companies to see if he could work for his passage on a ship down the Mississippi, but they all turned him down.  All seemed hopeless.  But was it?  Perl went to seek a Higher Power.  Perl went into a church and prayed.  Then he headed back to the docks and slept peacefully on the barges being very confident that the Lord had an answer for him.

The next morning, while walking through the docks, Perl saw, within that same hour, a tow boat coming up the river.  Lo and behold, it was the White Gold!  Answered prayer again, Perl felt.  He called to the sailors and they were very glad to get a deckhand.  The White Gold happened to be three deckhands short.  The White Gold was traveling north, not south, so Perl did duties up as far as McKee's Port, Pennsylvania and then they turned around to head back down the river.  In Paducah, Kentucky they picked up a Mississippi River pilot who took them down as far as Arcola, Louisiana near New Orleans where Perl almost drowned!

"I came very close to drowning down there!" Perl stated.  "I came very close to drowning.  The boat that I was using, which my little two-horse motor on it, was tied up along a moor, and down below it were two barges side by side, which puts them out almost 100 feet into the river.  The river was running 10 miles an hour.  The captain had contacted a tow boat captain which was going across to Tampa.  It was upriver a ways.  However, the captain could not take me into the water without coastguard papers.  So as I was turning my boat upriver so I could have steerage, instead of getting turned, my boat fell sideways against the front of those barges.  There was about a 6" whirl of water in front of those barges with the river running so strongly.  I had just backed out within inches and seconds from my bow.  Hitting those barges would have flipped me and drawn me underneath the barges.  My guardian angel again!  I got out of there!"


Perl continues, " I went into New Orleans and into a bank office.  I found they had a vehicle that had to be turned in as a repo going to New Port News, Virginia to another bank up there, which took me right by my brother's place in South Carolina.  The car had a rack on top, it was a station wagon.  I put my kayak up there, my gear inside and I drove to New Port News, Virginia to the other bank.  I dropped my kayak and gear off at my brother's.  This was in 1973."

Perl said when he was kayaking through Barkos, Florida to Arcadia through the wilderness, there were a lot of alligators there.  He said he had to sleep overnight on the banks....


Perl had a hammock that held him up about three feet off the ground.  He said, "I had an open flame flammable torch that I kept burning underneath me to keep alligators from coming up underneath me."  He continues, "Heading down the river again, I turned a bend at one place and there was about a 12-foot-long alligator laying on the sandbar on the side of the river.  It took off as soon as it knew I was there because not many people travel that part of the river.  I had startled him, and he headed for his deeper hold.  Most of the river is only about four feet in front of my kayak.  I passed right over top of him!  If I had awakened him a little later, he would have been right across me.  Well, that would have been another whole story,"  he said.

In 1983, Perl came up to Marietta, Ohio.  He saw an advertisement that ODNR (Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources) had formed a canoe group to reestablish the Indian waterways in the state.  So Perl went to Sandusky Bay and met with them.  Around 25 people paddled from Sandusky Bay down through Columbus to Portsmouth, Virginia.  That was 315 miles.  Perl carved a monument in stone just below Portsmouth at the Shawnee State Park Marina.   It was in the State Fair for 21 days and then it was mounted beside the marina clubhouse at the Shawnee State Park Marina.  It is still there today!

Perl, still being a water lover, went on traveling along 650 miles on the Ohio River from Portsmouth to Paducah, Kentucky.  "The winter then ran me off the river in 1983," said Perl.  "One time I took a bath on the edge of the river.  It was 36 degrees and the wind was blowing 25 miles an hour.  That was kind of cold!  That was one of the greatest trips I ever had because it taught me that God answers prayer no matter how minimal it is.  Sometimes I would be paddling against the wind and making no headway, then it would get so calm as my prayers were answered!  If I asked for a change in the wind or something like that to help me, I could almost time it five minutes.  It would turn around and help me. I tell people, you don't have to have some terrible, critical condition to be praying.  God will answer prayers, even the smallest!"


Perl is now in his early 90's but in his 80's he was carving these beautiful works of art on the trees that line the Muskingham River in the East Muskingham Park in Marietta, Ohio.  Perl Totman is truly a 'Perl' of great price.  He left all of us a beautiful heritage to enjoy for generations to come

We hope Perl's story has been a great encouragement to you.  Even in his 80's, he was carving trees for generations to enjoy.  Most of all, Perl would like to encourage everyone to have faith in the Lord and pray.  God will answer!  God can take any of us and transform us into something beautiful, just like Perl transformed useless trees into beautiful landmarks for all of us to enjoy!

If you have a story that you would like to submit for publication, just fill out the form on the bottom of the HOME page and we willl get in touch with you.   Thank you!

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