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The Day the Soldiers' Monument was Dedicated

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on November 9, 1930


The Day the Soldiers’ Monument Was Dedicated

By Howard Burba


     Search where you will, you’ll find no stronger evidence of changed conditions in this neck of the woods than is offered by the fact that today we can, and do, raise a half-million dollars for a Community Chest in a single week while in our father’s time it took 10 years to raise $22,000 for a monument to Montgomery county’s Civil War heroes.

     That tall shaft of granite and Dayton stone at the head of Main st. represents, in a large way, far more than a tribute to those who offered themselves upon the altar of their country when that country faced its greatest crisis.  It stands for far more than a people’s praise of those whose blood stained the stripes of this nation’s flag to a deeper crimson.

     That towering shaft, for 46 years a silent sentinal at the site of the city’s first homesite, has weathered the elements; has withstood time’s defacing ravages; has been proudly pointed out as imperishable testimony of a people’s pride in the patriotic achievements of their own flesh and blood.  Yet back of it is a story of perseverance that has seldom been equalled in this community: a story of hopes that bloomed, decayed and then blossomed again, only to again and again be dashed to earth.  It was easy for the historian of other days to tell how this or that thing came to be.  But the usual weak link in most historical chains is that part which has to do with the silent struggles suffered by those who brought realities out of dreams.

     Scarcely had Civil War bugles ceased to sound until various communities that had contributed to the ranks of the Union army had set about the erection of some fitting memorial to their heroes.  Montgomery co. was among the number.  In a way, this section was among the leaders in the movement, for within a few years after peace had been restored Dayton and Montgomery co. citizens were enthusiastically engaged in trying to persuade the government that here was the ideal spot for the first of a chain of Homes for disabled veterans.  How well that campaign succeeded is attested by the magnificent institution on the hills to the west of the city.

     But even while the fight for the Home location was going on, and still unsettled, Montgomery co.  people were at frequent intervals, suggesting and entertaining suggestions for the erection of a fitting memorial, in the shape of a monument, to those from this county who had worn the blue.  But while each year saw more and more converts to the plan, no one came forward with that most necessary of all contributions—actual cash.  The agitation, however, never entirely subsided.  In fact, it showed such a steady and substantial growth that in 1879 a meeting was called to organize for actual work on the proposal.

     This meeting, held on Aug. 29, 1879, in the city hall, was attended by 70 citizens, and resulted in the formation of The Montgomery County Soldiers’ Monument association.  E. M. Wood was named President; H. B. Sortman, vice president; A. C. Fenner, treasurer and J. C. Reber, secretary.  On July 4 of the following year an entertainment was given at the fair grounds and the sum of $200 raised for the fund.  Along in the fall local talent presented “The Drummer Boy of  Shiloh” at Turner’s Opera House, and another $200 was added to it.  But other attempts to increase it failed, and the more faint-hearted of the community despaired of ever realizing their dream of a towering shaft in honor of their heroes.

     John Sinks was serving Montgomery co. in the state legislature at the time, and an appeal was made to him to introduce a bill providing for the raising of funds for such purposes through taxation.  He offered such a measure, and it passed the legislature in 1881.  And it may be said in passing that scores of Civil War monuments now located through out the state of Ohio would also have remained in the dream stage had it not been for John Sinks.  The bill authorized the county commissioners to levy a tax of one-quarter mill for the erection of a memorial to Civil War veterans from the county in which the tax was collected, and at an election held in October, 1881, it passed by a large majority.   The first installment, collected in December, 1882, brought in the sum of $5850.

     With the financial end of the proposition cleared away, the matter of picking a site came to the fore.  As usual in such enterprises, there was considerable wire-pulling, and not a little ward politics in evidence.  The site most favored was at the junction of Main and Warren, now graced by that newest memorial to American advancement—a filling station.  Others wanted it located on the old court house corner.  Then came a third delegation favoring a site at the southern end of the Main st. bridge, within 50 paces of where the first log house on the site of Dayton had been erected.  This delegation succeeded in having its claims endorsed.

     Plans for the erection of a memorial shaft were asked for, and 50 were submitted.  The work of opening and passing on them was set for July 15, 1882.  At that time the contract for the monument was let to J. W. Carpenter and Sons of Dayton at their bid of $22,500.  It was to be a shaft of granite and Dayton stone, and at its peak was to be placed a symbolical figure of—Columbia.  Then the members of Old Guard Post got busy.

     The argued, as do many of their descendants, that a woman’s place is in the home and not on top of a monument.  Besides, they contended, Miss Columbia was a national product.  They were erecting a memorial to home talent, and patronizing home industry in its erection—why not select the cap-sheaf of this great stone pillar from the ranks of home folk?  So Miss Columbia lost her place on the monument, and Ross Adams of Lexington, Ky., selected to superintend the placing of the shaft, brought forth a sketch of a Union veteran in full military regalia that met with almost unanimous approval.  He went to Italy, and in the little city of Carrara, he had it carved out of Italian marble.

     Then came the actual work of constructing the foundation and base.  For this purpose huge stones were quarried at Centerville and in the quarries near the present site of Woodland cemetery.  The granite was ordered from quarries in Maine.  At the time of placing the lower stone, and they had to be transported through the streets from the railroad yards by means of traction engines, they were the largest to be found in any monument in the entire world.  The main shaft of marble was transported on two flat cars and advance inspections made all along the entire route to see that there was proper clearance at curves, and that no obstructions in the form of overhead passes or tunnels would endanger its transit.

     Actual work of excavation commenced on Sept. 19, 1883.  The base was finished on Nov. 22 of the same year.  During the following year great activity was manifested by those selected by the monument committee to look after a formal program of dedication.  The city had been successful in securing the annual encampment of the G. A. R. of Ohio for that year, so it was panned to dedicate the monument during the week of the encampment.

     On the evening of the 15th of July,1884, a committee placed in the base of the monument a metal casket, and saw to it that it was permanently sealed there. In the casket—and it has never, of course, been disturbed—they placed a Holy Bible, city directories of the years 1883 and 1884, the last annual reports of the city clerk, workhouse, fire, police, health, infirmary and waterworks departments, the last annual report of the Dayton W. C. T. U., constitution and by-laws of the Old Guard association and roll of members, local newspapers of the date of May 30, 1884, list of officials of E. G. King Post G. A. R. and a story of the Soldiers’ Home.

The big week was marked on the calendar as the last week in July of 1884.  The event was “billed like a circus,” to use the vernacular of a later generation, and at no time in Dayton’s history has there been circulated a more widespread invitation to the whole world to visit her.  The encampment alone would have brought a crowd capable of taxing the city’s lodging accommodations.  But added to it was a spectacle such as residents of the middle west had not then beheld—the dedication of the greatest monument ever to be erected in America in honor of the nation’s warriors.

     At sunrise on the morning of the first day of the gala week, there was a salute of cannon from the north side of the levee, where a battery had been erected for the occasion.  At 10 o’clock there was a reception to distinguished guests at Music Hall, and at mid-day another salute of 35 guns.  Among those in attendance whose names are yet familiar to all Miami Valley people were ex-President Rutherford B. Hayes and wife; Gen. W. S. Rosecrans, Gen. Robert Kennedy, Joseph W. O’Neill, president of the Ex-Prisoners’ of  War association; United States Senator Hawley of Connecticut.

     Never before had there been such a lavish spending of decorations.  Main and Third sts. were literally covered with flags and bunting, while at intervals across each street waved gorgeous cartoons of tremendous size depicting battle scenes still fresh in the memory of the tens of thousands of visitors garbed in military blue.  The old courthouse was covered with small flags, large ones being hung between the massive stone columns.  Sheriff Charles Freeman and his deputy, Joseph Dowling had seen to it that the county jail was robbed of its drabness and repulsiveness.  It boasted a most attractive decorative scheme, while set above the door appeared this warm and hospitable greeting: “Come Unto Me All Ye Who Are Weary and Heavy Laden and I Will Give You Rest!”

     In a hall on Main st. 250 tattered and torn battleflags, many of them still encrusted with the dried blood of those who had gone down in their defense, were on display.  Occupying almost the entire west front of the city building was a painting, made especially for the occasion by Homer Henderson of Columbus, depicting Uncle Sam striking the shackels from the limbs of a slave.  Here there and everywhere were new and unusual attractions.  Even down on Jefferson st. there was just opening what in later years became one of the most famous “thirst parlors” in the middle west.  James Ritty was starting the “Pony House” on a hectic career that ended only with the passage of the 18th amendment.

     But the day of days was July 31.  It was on this date that the flags fell from about the monument and 70,000 voices mingled with the noise of twice as many hands in applauding the pure, white shaft that seemed to pierce the sky.  For more than an hour through streets so densely thronged with people that it was necessary to call upon the mounted police detachment to clear a pathway for the marchers, bands and uniformed military organizations made their way.  The parade finally halted at the monument where, at exactly 2:30 o’clock, Hon. Samuel Craighead, master of ceremonies, managed to restore a semblance of order long enough to introduce Hon. George W. Houk, who transferred the monument on behalf of the county commissioners, to the citizens of Montgomery co.  The acceptance speech was by Gov. George Hoadley.

     Following this a special musical composition by Prof. W. L. Blumenschein and Mrs. John Hancock, entitled “Peace To Their Ashes, Their Graves and Our Pride” was sung by a selected choir to an accompaniment of the regimental band.  The invocation was by Rev. William Earnshaw, while stirring addresses were delivered by Col. E. A. Parrott and Maj. Gen. Joseph R. Hawley.  The singing of “America” by the entire assemblage closed the formal program of dedication.

     There was not an untoward event to mar the festivities of the occasion.  True there was slight hitch when the drapery about the figure at the peak of the monument became caught on the wires which held it in place, thus delaying the unveiling for the moment.  But pushing and shoving his way through the closely-packed crowd, a professional steeplejack who happened to be in the vast throng volunteered his services and treated the audience to an additional thrill when he scaled a guy wire and detached the stubborn bit of muslin.

     We thumb the yellowed pages of the modest four-page daily of that day.  We find a traffic note to the effect that in a collision between a street car and carriage at Third and Main the latter had a wheel torn off.  We picture the gasps of the multitude that lined both banks of the river while a brilliant and spectacular “naval engagement” was fought to a finish on the peaceful waters of the Great Miami.  We thank the newspaperman of that early day, too, for making clear the fact that while the monument was dedicated “at the intersection of Main and Water streets” on the 31st day of July, 1884, that on the following day the monument stood “at the intersection of  Main st. and Monument av.”  Water st. had its name changed the day following the dedication of the soldiers’ monument.

     Thus ends the story of another red-letter event in Dayton.  And yet, would it not be happier to view its ending with the eyes of one who actually saw it, participated in it and felt the inspiration that must have found its way into every heart present on that occasion, just as our own hearts now find inspiration in standing before this selfsame shaft that, for almost half a century, has stood as one country’s loving tribute to those of its sons who offered themselves when the nation was distressed?  Then let us quote the closing paragraphs from a newspaper account of the dedication:

     “Never before in the history of Dayton has the spirit of enthusiasm and patriotism been so generously displayed.  Never before have the citizens extended the arm of welcome so cheerfully, and never before has bunting, banners and streamers so bedecked the buildings or waved in the breezes.

     “The glowing sun of this morning was welcomed by a thunderous salute from open-mouthed cannon and pleasant breezes blew softly from the west.  The atmosphere was sweet with each exhalation from verdue reanimated by recent rains. The thousands of happy veterans, their families and friends, who had arrived on Tuesday were reinforced by vastly increased multitudes, who poured into the city over the half-dozen railroads from every part of the compass, and in all manner of vehicles from the surrounding farms, and by the happy thousands of Daytonians who had stopped the wheels of industry and the activities of trade, to swell the mightier congregation of patriotic pleasure-seekers.  The stores, the eating and lodging houses were crowded; the sidewalks were thronged with neatly-dressed and happy people; the crossings were almost impassable and within a block of the monument, on either flank, and in front and in rear; the masses of folk at frequent periods, were almost impenetrable.  Only be the sharp excise of police power could space be cleared for the parade.

     “Perhaps the most animated scenes were at the depot. Long trains of a dozen or a score of crowded cars rolled into the car shed in rapid succession and poured their chattering battallions into the great army of humanity that had already assembled, all eager first for quarters and then to find the points of interest.  Again thousands sought transportation to the Soldiers” Home.

     “The cheerful day closed and pleasant evening saw a mighty mass gathered by the riverside to witness a spectacle of mimic war between Union gunboats in the Miami and mock rebel fortifications on the sandy shores.  The night was painted red, the valleys reverberated artificial thunder, and the happy festival of the Grand Army closed with animating cheers for a Union victory.  Then the clouds suddenly opened and drenched tens of thousands of people, who fled yelling or screaming lugubriously as they happened to be men or women, seeking shelter from the pitiless storm.

     “It was a great and a glorious day.  Its animating scenes will live long in the memory of all participants.  We shall not see its like again for years.”