Yet Another Mysterious Korean War Temple Case

sherlock holmes2

Yet another mysterious Korean War temple case to be solved.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Recently, I was contacted by Mrs. H, asking me if I could help her identify the place in a picture of her late father in front of a statue from the Korean War. Out of the three cases that I’ve helped people identify a place in a picture from the Korean War, this one would prove to be the most difficult because there was very little to go on.

With very little to go on in the picture, I asked Mrs. H if she could provide at least a general location of where her father might have been stationed while serving in the Korean War. All she was able to provide was that she thought her father might have been stationed in Seoul.

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The Korean War era picture from Mrs. H. Amazing!

With this as a geographic outline, I took a closer look at the picture. In the picture, you can see Mrs. H’s late father leaning up against a rather large statue of a warrior that stands about four metres in height. Based on this statue, I immediately realized that he was at a royal tomb. And since he was stationed in Seoul, I started looking at all of the 40 Joseon Royal Tombs, which are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The one unique feature about the statue that really helped me in search of the correct royal tomb is that the statue was perched on an elevated base. This is rather unique for a statue at a royal tomb, as they are usually placed on the grass that surrounds the royal burial mound.

And bingo, with these few clues, I was finally able to figure out where the picture was taken. It wasn’t until I looked at one of the last tombs on the list that I was able to correctly identify the Royal Tomb as the Hongyureung Royal Tomb in Gyeonggi-do Province.

The Hongyureung Royal Tomb is in fact two tombs: Hongneung Royal Tomb and Yureung Royal Tomb. The Hongyureung name is a combination of both. And both of these tombs house the final resting places of the last two rulers of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) before Japanese Colonial Rule (1910-1945). Housed at Hongneung Royal Tomb is King Gojong (1852-1919), who was the 26th Joseon King. King Gojong’s reign (r.1863-1907) was perhaps one of the most tumultuous in Korean history. Japan used Korea as a base to fight Russiafrom during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Eventually, King Gojong abdicated his thrown to his son under Japanese pressure, and in 1919 he died suddenly at Deoksugung Palace in Seoul. Some believe he was poisoned to death by the Japanese. King Gojong is buried at this tomb with his wife, Queen Myeongseong (1851-1895). Queen Myeongseong was involved and participated in a lot of political matters along the Korean peninsula. As a result of her support for Russiato help overthrow the interference caused by the Japanese in Korean affairs, she was murdered by a group of Japanese agents in Gyeongbukgung Palaceon Oct. 8th, 1895.


King Gojong at the age of 49.

The other tomb at Hongruyeung Royal Tombs is the Yureung Royal Tomb. This burial mound houses the remains of King Sunjong (1874-1926) and his two wives. King Sunjong (r.1907-1910) was the 27th, and final, King of the Joseon Dynasty. He assumed the throne after the abdication of the throne by his father. His reign was a brief, but bloody, reign in Korean history. After the Japanese-Korean Annexation Treaty in 1910, which brought an end to Korean rule, and ushered in one of the most brutal periods in Korean history which took place during Japanese Colonial Rule, King Sunjong was confined to Changdeokgung Palace, where he died on April 24th, 1926.


King Sunjong, the last king of Korea.

What really gave away the identification of the tomb was the base of the statue, which I initially thought it might. In addition, the unique design of the statue’s body and face was another bit of help that aided in the identification of the tomb. Finally, the landscaping of the tomb behind the statue helped, as well, in the identification of the tomb. And with these few clues, I was able to correctly identify the location of the picture for Mrs. H.


A contemporary picture from the Hongyureung Royal Tomb. The one with the yellow arrow pointed to it is the statue from the Korean War picture.

With all the information, and the positive identification of the Royal Tomb, I passed it along to Mrs. H. Like me, she was extremely happy with the identification. I was especially happy because I thought there would be no chance of identifying the tomb with 40 Joseon Royal tombs alone in the Seoularea, and hundreds more throughout the rest of the Korean peninsula. This truly was a needle in the haystack search, but it was a needle I was able to find with a bit of determination and a whole lot of luck.

For more information about the Joseon Royal Tombs around Seoul, you can check out the Cultural Hermitage Administration of Korea website.


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