INDIANAPOLIS -- One hundred twenty-eight years ago this week, work began on the iconic Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The cornerstone of the monument was laid on Aug. 22, 1889.
The Civil War had been over for about 25 years, but the sacrifices Americans -- and specifically Hoosiers -- made in the fight were still in the forefront of people's minds.
An Indianapolis Journal article described the monument as:
"[The memorial] will constitute the symbol of that generous sentiment of admiration which followed the Indiana soldier to battle, inspired him upon the field and in the camp, and will live unabated by time as long as patriotism shall have a place in the hearts of a united nation. ...
From time immemorial it has been the custom to honor a nation's great, but the heroic deeds commemorated were generally of those who had reaped the greatest measure of glory while living. The state seemed jealous of the fame only of those who had served her in some distinguished capacity, while the many, with hearts as loyal, love as marked, valor as conspicuous and patriotism as self-sacrificing rested in graves unmarked by evidences of the people's gratitude, unless some modest tablet were suggested by private munificence or the undying love of friend or relative. Too often it was their heroic deeds were forgotten with the generation to which they belonged, or lived only in the hearts of those to whom nature had made them dear.
The idea that every man who lays down his life in his country's just defense, no matter how humble his sphere, should have his patriotism commemorated, forms in practice the exception rather than the rule; but in the hearts that conceived the erection of the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' monument there was a feeling that all who perished in their country's defense were equally entitled to have their deeds of valor commemorated. Whether they died as officers or privates the monument will be theirs in every sense that speaks of a people's gratitude or will do their memories honor."
At the time, Monument Circle was called Circle Park. The space was initially supposed to include the governor's mansion, but no Indiana governor ever lived at the house built there. The house was demolished in 1857, opening the space for the monument.
The first legitimate plan for a monument in the middle of the city first came in 1875. A couple years later, the Indiana General Assembly allocated $200,000 for the monument. It ended up costing about three times that, with the remainder paid for by community organizations and a Civil War veterans group. The monument was designed by Bruno Schmitz of Germany and built with gray oolitic Indiana limestone.
At the monument's dedication, famous Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley recited his poem, "A Monument for the Soldiers."
A monument for the Soldiers!
And what will ye build it of?
Can ye build it of marble, or brass, or bronze,
Outlasting the Soldiers’ love?
Can ye glorify it with legends
As grand as their blood hath writ
From the inmost shrine of this land of thine
To the outermost verge of it?
And the answer came: We would build it
Out of our hopes made sure,
And out of our purest prayers and tears,
And out of our faith secure:
We would build it out of the great white truths
Their death hath sanctified,
And the sculptured forms of the men in arms,
And their faces ere they died.
And what heroic figures
Can the sculptor carve in stone?
Can the marble breast be made to bleed,
And the marble lips to moan?
Can the marble brow be fevered?
And the marble eyes be graved
To look their last, as the flag floats past,
On the country they have saved?
And the answer came: The figures
Shall all be fair and brave,
And, as befitting, as pure and white
As the stars above their grave!
The marble lips, and breast and brow
Whereon the laurel lies,
Bequeath us right to guard the flight
Of the old flag in the skies!
A monument for the Soldiers!
Built of a people’s love,
And blazoned and decked and panoplied
With the hearts ye build it of!
And see that ye build it stately,
In pillar and niche and gate,
And high in pose as the souls of those
It would commemorate!
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