American World War One Monuments

This article was originally published in the spring of 2014.

It began innocently enough.  It was my day off and I was out exploring the newest town.  Anything to get out of the apartment, and perhaps find a short cut down to the office.  I came around a corner and there it was, standing in the middle of the road.  A bronze statue on a pedestal, bayonet fixed, charging out of his nonexistent trench to cross no man’s land and make the world safe for democracy.  I quickly found a place to park the car and ran across the street out to the small triangle of grass the Doughboy controlled.  There, along Antietam Creek, just a few miles from Sharpsburg, Maryland, home of one of the bloodiest battles in American history, stood a memorial to the grandsons of the Civil War.

That was seven years and many miles ago.  I’ve chased monuments from Utah to Tennessee, from St. Louis to Salem, Massachusetts.  We as Americans memorialized our veterans and fallen soldiers as individuals and in their tens of thousands.  Often we remembered them by neighborhood, by church parish and by county.  Some cities chose to list all their war dead, regardless of race, some noted their African-American soldiers with the letter C (for Colored, the parlance of the day), others intentionally ignored dozens and even hundreds due to the inconvenience of their race.  The monuments are a snapshot of the inter-war period, remembering the soldiers sailors and marines who had died in the war.  They celebrate America’s tradition of democracy, monuments that range from classical temples to art deco palaces to the dead. They embody the clash of classes, and the fact that in many cities benign neglect was the best an African American could hope for from government.

Zanesville, Ohio has been a center of transportation from the early days of the Republic.  It began as a ford site of the Muskingum River along Zane’s Trace.  It grew as a city on the National Road, which in 1925 became US 40, stretching from Atlantic City, New Jersey to San Francisco, California. Nearly a decade later Zanesville, like so many other cities and towns, wanted to remember its veterans and war dead, and they chose to order a pressed copper statue from E.M Viquesney of Americus, Georgia.  The Viquesney monuments are the most common monuments to the World War in the United States, and continue to have a special place in the hearts of American towns and cities including Vernal, Utah, Scranton, Pennsylvania, Castile, New York, and Enosburg Falls, Vermont.

One of the numerous "Spirit of the American Doughboy" casts  E. M. Viquesney made of it for towns and cities across America.

One of the numerous “Spirit of the American Doughboy” casts E. M. Viquesney made of it for towns and cities across America.

Salem, Massachusetts conjures up certain images in the minds of people across the world.  Yet by the 1920s Salem was more than 225 years removed from the time of the infamous Witch Trials.  In that time Salem had grown from a predominantly Protestant village to a center for global trade, then to a center of manufacturing dependent in large part on immigrant labor.  Much of that labor consisted of Catholics from Europe, and Canada, whose social lives revolved around their local parishes.  When the soldiers returned from Europe the people of Immaculate Conception Parish had a memorial created by Raymond Averill Porter, who taught at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, who then went on to create a statue of Senator Lodge, the fierce opponent of Wilson’s League of Nations, along with numerous other monuments, memorials and sculptures of various types.  Salem had suffered from a fire that consumed a large portion of the city in 1914.  That had spared the Immaculate Conception Parish, but destroyed many of the parish buildings, and more importantly much of the housing for St. Joseph’s Parish.  St. Joseph’s was historically made up of French Canadians, who had only built their current church in 1911.  While the parish’s people recovered, along with the parish schools, nunnery, and vicarage, a new church wasn’t commissioned until after the Second World War.  At the same time the new, modernist building was under construction St. Joseph’s also commissioned a joint World War One and World War Two monument.  In much the same style as the new church building the monument reflects mid-century design.  In contrast to the “Columbia” of Immaculate Conception’s bas relief, holding her shield reading “for God Country and Humanity” the St. Joseph’s Parish monument is easily 20 feet tall, an angel holding a sword, with the words “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds” around the base.  While Immaculate Conception remains a vibrant parish on the edge of Salem’s tourism district St. Joseph’s is no more.  The parish and its church fell to the joint wrecking balls of parish closure and reconstruction, the modernist mid-century glory that was the center of Quebecois life in Salem remembered by the hearts of its former parishioners and by the monument in “The Point” beside Lafayette and Washington Streets.

The World War memorial of Immaculate Conception Parish, Salem MA.

The World War memorial of Immaculate Conception Parish, Salem MA.

St. Joseph's Parish Monument Salem MA

The World War monument of St. Joseph’s Parish Salem MA is a monument built in conjunction with the reconstruction of St. Josephs, since closed. It memorializes the 210 men of the parish who went away to both wars.

Permanent old world presence in what is now St. Louis had begun in 1764, and by the beginning of the 20th century St. Louis had become a major transportation hub, home of the two westernmost Major League Baseball teams, host of the 1904 Olympics, and the 1904 World’s Fair, celebrating the Centennial of the Louisiana Purchase… albeit a year late, to allow more countries to participate.  At the same time, St. Louis and its neighbor across the Mississippi East St. Louis, Illinois had serious racial divides, which led to the infamous 1917 Race Riots in East St. Louis, housing discrimination throughout St. Louis proper, and tensions between unionized white labor and cheaper, African-American labor recently arrived from the deep south (while unions refused to allow the African-Americans to join).  It was against this backdrop that St. Louis began construction of its Soldiers Memorial in 1922.  The Memorial, and its museum cover a city block at the center of Memorial Park and took more than a decade to complete.  The building was dedicated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936 and finished in 1938.  The structure was designed by the firm Mauran, Russell & Crowell, and four statues surrounding the building were created by Walter Hancock, whose better known works include the Pennsylvania Railroad World War Two Memorial in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and the Garden of Gethsemane series at Abbey of Gethsemini in Kentucky.  Hancock was also one of the Monuments Officers involved in the search for looted art in Germany during the Second World War.

Copyright Joshua House 2015

The Cenotaph inside the World War memorial in St. Louis Missouri

Just as small towns, church parishes, and large cities built monuments to the First World War, many of the States did as well.  Utah was a small state in the 1920s.  In fact it had a smaller population then the City of St. Louis.  But in the shadow of the State Capital, beside City Creek the Silver Star Mothers had a Pagoda built around 1924, with the urn and its list of names added in 1932.  Despite being dedicated by the Silver Star Mothers, the memorial carries the names of those who were killed in the war (Silver Star Mothers was an organization of women whose sons had served in the war, but not died). The Pagoda and Urn, along with their location in the verdant City Creek Canyon encompasses the visual traditions of 19th century architecture and mourning harkening back to Greek and Roman themes.

Copyright Joshua House 2015

Utah memorial to the soldiers of the Great War.

While communities constructed memorials for the soldiers who served, there were also monuments created for individuals.  Perhaps the most often seen, as well as most often over looked of these is the Fr. Duffy Monument in New York’s Father Duffy Square.  Who was Fr. Duffy and where is Father Duffy Square you ask?  Well Fr. Duffy was a Canadian priest who moved to the United States and became the regimental chaplain of the 69th Infantry, aka the Fighting 69th.   The 69th had begun as a regiment just before the Civil War, made up of first generation Irish Catholics.  By 1917 the regiment was “only” half Irish, and now included Italians, Germans, Jews, and Native Americans.  Fr. Duffy traveled to France with the 69th Regiment, which was now a federalized unit merged into the 42nd Infantry Division (the Rainbow Division) under a new number, the 165th.  Fr. Duffy could have sat in the rear as the regiment served on the front, but he didn’t.  He accompanied first aid squads in the front line trenches, hearing confession and giving last rights while bullets flew and poison gas shells burst around them.  He served with the regiment its entire time in France, never being rotated home, and came to be a Major, the highest ranking chaplain in the 42nd Division.  He held the respect of both the men and the officers, including Wild Bill Donovan, who went on to create and command the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) during World War Two, and General Douglas McArthur, already a controversial figure in American military and political circles, who went on to lose, and retake the Philippines during World War Two, and successes and failures during the Korean War.

Where is Duffy Square?  Well, that comes from his career after the World War.  Once the 69th returned Kitchen.  At Holy Cross Church Fr. Francis Duffy served a community of working class men and women, many of whom had served with him in France. He also established a church community for actors from Broadway as well as the 2:30 AM “Printer’s Mass” Sunday mornings for the workers at the New York Times, Herald Tribune, Daily News and Daily Mirror who led nocturnal lives to print the cities papers. Additionally he had become a confidant of important political figures of the day including Al Smith, the 1928 Democratic candidate for President, as well as the first Catholic to run for the office.  It was Fr. Duffy who ghost wrote Smith’s editorial in response to questions of his loyalty to America rather than the Pope.  Fr. Duffy died in 1932, and by 1938 a monument had been built to him, at the northern end of Times Square.  It shows Fr Duffy standing in front of a large Celtic cross, wearing his officer’s trench coat, but no weapons, just as he did during the war.   The monument appears, yet stands uncommented upon in thousands of photographs a day, in scenes showing the hustle and bustle of Times Square, and in film and television, without being focused on by the characters.

Monument to Fr. Duffy, chaplain to the 69th NY Infantry.

The monuments discussed in this article are in good condition, yet all across America there are monuments to the First World War that lay forlorn, forgotten by the communities that built them.  Perhaps the city needs funds to restore them.  Perhaps they are truly forgotten on the wall of an abandoned courthouse, in an unused portion of a cemetery, or moved from place to place, and now hidden away in the basement of the city hall.  Some monuments are city auditoriums or gymnasiums.  Some of the best known monuments stand as stadiums, there initial meanings forgotten; such as Soldier Field in Chicago or the California Memorial Stadium at the University of California (Berkley).

Fortunately, there is a way you can help.  The World War I Memorial Inventory Project is in the process of creating an online inventory where you can enter information on your local memorial including location, date of installation, material types (if known), and other information.  The World War I Memorial Project can be found online at photographs, articles, and the descriptive details are greatly appreciated.

An article and a quest like this naturally are indebted to those who have helped along the way.  Special thanks must go to the people at Memorial House in Salt Lake City who confirmed forgotten details of the monument in Monument Grove, to the staff of the St. Louis Soldiers Memorial Museum, the many friends including but not limited to Camesha Scruggs, Jonny Eberle, and Lisa Berray who have taken the time to send me photos of monuments near them I was interested in, and most importantly, to the more than four million Americans who were mobilized to make the world safe for democracy.

This entry was posted in American Historic Sites, American History, photography, photography - new england, Photography - New York, Photography - The American West, world war one and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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