WALLACE, Idaho — A century-old story of faith and miracles has captivated Mike Feiler, sending him on a quest to find a lost statue of Jesus.
The story comes from the 1910 forest fires, which consumed a third of the mining town of Wallace. When flames threatened Providence Hospital, a Catholic institution on the north side of town, the mother superior fell to her knees, pleading with God to spare it.
Sister Anthony promised to erect a statue of Jesus if her prayers were answered. Shortly afterward, the wind shifted. The hospital was saved, and its deliverance became known as "the Miracle of the Coeur d'Alenes."
Sister Anthony kept her promise after the fire. A life-size statue of Jesus was purchased for the hospital grounds.
The story touched Feiler, who first heard it several years ago.
"It's always hard to say that something is a miracle, but it's incredible that all those things happened at the same time," said Feiler, a former Coeur d'Alene Press editor who now lives in Wallace. "The fire got so close to the building that the paint was bubbling. Then the winds changed and the fire went back up the canyon."
Feiler wanted to restore the statue for a community project. But it had disappeared.
He's spent the last several years trying to unravel the mystery of the missing statue. He's searched old documents for clues to its whereabouts, queried local churches and quizzed Wallace's older residents.
The last documented reference he could find was a 1956 article from the Wallace Press-Times, describing the statue's donation to the Wallace District Mining Museum after the hospital's closure. A picture of the statue shows Jesus with uplifted arms and flowing robes. The statue's left hand is missing.
The museum has a receipt acknowledging the donation, but no Jesus statue among its artifacts, said Jim McReynolds, the museum's executive director.
Last year was the 100th anniversary of the 1910 fires, which claimed at least 85 lives and burned 3 million acres in Idaho, Washington and Montana during a two-day firestorm.
Museum officials put out the word that the statue was missing and they wanted it back.
"It's a significant artifact because it ties into one of those very important stories in our heritage," McReynolds said. "We've had rumors of possible sightings, but nothing that's ever panned out."
Feiler chased several leads. The Old Mission State Park has two smaller statues from Providence Hospital, but not the one associated with the fire.
He also contacted the Sisters of Providence's Seattle office, hoping their archives might have more information on the statue. That was a dead end, too.
Feiler is still hopeful that the statue will be discovered in someone's attic or in a dusty church basement.
"My biggest fear is that it got melted down," he said. "If it was a high quality statue, it may have been bronze."