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.


A Mysterious Korean War Temple Case


A Mysterious Korean War Temple Case fit for Sherlock Holmes.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The other day I received an interesting email from a man named G. In it he told me how his father had served in the Korean War and how he had a couple pictures he wondered if I could help identify for him:

“Hi Dale,

Came across your website in doing research on my father’s military service during the Korean War. I have a few pictures of temples/shrines he took, was wondering if you would be willing to look at them and possibly tell me what they are?

Thanks, G.”

It was definitely an interesting proposal, and I honestly wondered if I could identify what he hoped I could do for him. There were a couple reasons for my initial hesitation. First, a lot of Korea was destroyed during the Korean War, so I didn’t even know if the temples or shrines even existed anymore. Another concern was a lot of Korea has undergone a lot of extensive reconstruction. But having a brother and father that have served in the military, I thought the least I could do was try and help G. with any information I could provide. So I told him to send the pictures that he had and that I would do my best.

“Hello G.,

If there is any way that I can help you, I’m more than willing to help. With the pictures, if there’s any information that you could send that would be appreciated like the area they were taken ex. city, province. It would go a long way in helping me help you. Sincerely, Dale.”

After initially looking at the pictures, I was unable to immediately identify either of the two pictures. At first, I thought one might be the famous Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do. But after closer scrutiny, I dismissed this temple as a potential location.


G.’s father during the Korean War in front of an unknown pavilion.

So after eye-balling the two pictures thoroughly once more, I decided to look at the places that G. provided for the movements of his father during the Korean War:

“…I can give you a summary of his movements across Korea in the early fluid years of the war. Landed at Inchon [Incheon] in October of 1950, then was convoyed down to Pusan [Busan]. From Pusan [Busan] he was shipped to another landing at Wonson. From Wonson went by road up to Hamhung/Hungnam area. After the Chinese entered the war, he was evacuated back to Ulsan. He spent the rest of his tour riding rail security on the eastern lines based around these towns as far as I know:
Kyongju [Gyeongju]
Yongchon [Yeongcheon]
Tague [Daegu]
He also would make runs up to Andong and Wonju.”

Unfortunately, because of the large amount of area that G.’s father covered during the Korean War, which included two countries and three separate provinces, the location of G’s father’s movements didn’t help me all that much.

So the next thing I decided to do was more closely scrutinize the details of the pavilion in the first picture. Instantly, I was drawn to the Chinese characters that hung on the second floor of the pavilion. At first, my wife attempted to read these Chinese characters, but she said they seemed a bit off. So the next thing I did was send the pictures off to a friend, who just so happens to be a Buddhist monk in Korea. With his colleagues, he was able to read two of the three characters. He was able to read the characters as __ 경 루. However, he was unsure that the pavilion matched the only pavilion with a similar name in Gyeongsang-do. The pavilion’s name that he thought it might be was: 찬경루 (Changyeongru). So plugging this result into Google Image, I came back with only one pavilion with a similar name in the entire two provinces of Gyeongsangnam-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do, which were the two provinces that G.’s father moved the most in during the Korean War. And while a lot had changed around the Changyeongru Pavilion, which I later found out was due to extensive renovations and reconstruction by the Shim family, it was the pavilion that I was looking for.


The modern looking Changyeong-ru pavilion in Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do. So much has changed in and around this pavilion in present day Korea.

With this knowledge in hand, I was able to provide G. with the following information:

“Hello G,

Wow, that was a difficult one, but I think I was able to one hundred percent identify the structure in the first picture. With a little help I was able to identify it as Changyeongru (Chan gyeong ru) or 찬경루 in Korean script. The first picture is not a temple, but instead, it’s a pavilion.

The pavilion is in the city of Cheongsong in Gyeongsangbuk-do province.

This pavilion was built by Magistrate Ha Dam in 1428, the 10th year of Joseon King Sejong’s reign. According to the chronicle of the pavilion’s construction, the pavilion was made and named in tribute to the progenitor of the Cheongsong Shim clan. It was built by her sons and is still currently owned by the family. The pavilion has undergone a lot of reconstruction and renovation through the years.

From the Busan train station, it would take three hours and forty minutes by car. This is a distance of 188 kilometres.

From Daegu it would take two hours and twenty minutes by car. This is a distance of 117 kilometres.

I am less sure of the second picture. But I do believe that the two pictures were taken at two different places. However, if I’m to guess the proximity of Changyeongru to notable or even famous temples in the area, the only one that sticks out is Bogwangsa Temple (Bo gwang sa). The temple is only 2.9 kilometres away from Changyeongru pavilion, and it takes 13 minutes by car.

Cheongsong Geungnakjeon Hall of Bogwangsa Temple,pg[6]

A look at the main hall at modern day Bogwangsa Temple in Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Here’s a little history on the temple. It was built in the 7th century by the famous monk Uisang-daesa, who is a leading figure in Korean Buddhism.

In the second picture that you sent me, it’s probably a main altar inside of the main hall. Sitting on the main altar, in the centre, is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise ).


An amazing look into Korea’s past. This is possibly the main altar at Bogwangsa Temple during the Korean War with Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre of the triad.

I hope that helps you in knowing more about your father’s service.

Sincerely, Dale.”

G. was extremely happy that I was able to identify the pictures his father had taken some 60 years ago in a Korea that is barely recognizable to modern day Koreans. Perhaps his father didn’t even know the places he had travelled and the places he had taken pictures of so long ago.

I asked G. to share his story to which he agreed. I’m glad he did because it’s a really unique story about how much foreign powers helped Korea, as well as to show just how much Korea has been able to pull itself up “by its bootstraps” to become the beautiful and modern country it is today.