Ernest Schilling (1878-1975) is buried in the Gracelawn Cemetery at Van Buren, Arkansas. On his tombstone is the likeness of a billy goat and the name by which he was most known: “By Golly”. He was a sign painter by trade, but also a talented artist. His trademark was the “By Golly” signature on all of his work.
Though he lived out the end of his days in the Van Buren area, he was a resident of Eureka Springs off and on for many years. He would set up at the side of the road with a sign that read “By Golly, The Sage of Pine Log.” I’m told that tourists would stop to have their likeness drawn or to take his photograph. Though an educated man of Swiss-German heritage, By Golly could look like a stereotypical Arkansas hillbilly with his long beard and floppy hat.
McKinley Weems remembers By Golly being in Eureka Springs in the middle 1930s working on the painting of the big Onyx Cave sign on the building downtown. In those days, By Golly worked out of a cart pulled by a jenny.
McKinley worked in the radio shop in the lower level of the building and outside were barrels full of junk. One cold day, bundled up in winter clothes to keep warm, By Golly was high up painting the Onyx Cave sign when he fell and landed on the barrels below. It is said that the only thing that saved him was the many layers of bulky clothes that he was wearing.
I’ve heard the story that he lived in Seligman, Missouri for awhile and a church hired him to paint a sign. He painted the name of the church and other information as instructed and at the bottom he signed it “By Golly.” The church was unhappy with the signature and demanded that it be removed. Without a word, By Golly climbed the ladder and painted over the signature. The next time it rained, however, the paint that he used to cover the signature washed away and his “By Golly” signature reappeared.