From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Remembering the twentieth century has become a preoccupation bordering on obsession. As the lists of greatest moments and most important people grows daily, I am equally intrigued not only by what we choose to recall but the way in which we decide to commemorate the past. Over the past one hundred years Pennsylvanians have remembered their history by constructing a stunning array of statues, murals, and monuments. My list for this century calls attention to these public works that help tell the story of Pennsyl­vania.

There can be no better place to begin a review of public memory than in the vast public spaces of our magnificent State Capitol in Harrisburg, which President Theodore Roosevelt called “the hand­somest building I ever saw” at its dedication in 1906. In its rotunda, Edwin Austin Abbey’s enormous murals celebrate religious freedom, scientific discovery, iron and steelworkers, and the discovery of oil The floor is tiled with hundreds of mosaics made by Henry Chapman Mercer that depict our seemingly boundless historical, cultural, and natural resources. Violet Oakley’s paintings of the life of founder William Penn in the Governor’s Reception Room and her large murals in the Senate Chamber and the Supreme Court Room offer a historical narrative that both informs and inspires.

Monuments to the Civil War are especially impressive. Pittsburgh’s 1907 Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in is a striking example of the Beaux-Arts style. Architect Henry Hornbostel provided a complex series of spaces that include meeting rooms, a banquet hall, a museum, and an auditorium seating twenty-five hundred. At Gettysburg, the largest of the fourteen hundred battlefield monuments is the Pennsylvania Memorial, designed by A. Liance Cottrell and erected in 1910. An imposing granite structure of intersecting arches with a bronze likeness of the goddess Victory crowning the top, the memorial features eight heroic-scale statues of political and military leaders and eighty-six plaques listing every soldier from Pennsylvania who participated in the Battle of Gettysburg during the fateful first three days of July 1863.

While the War of 1812 is not studied as intensely as the Civil War, citizens of Erie have memorialized that conflict with great energy. The central figure in chronicling this story is Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, whose classic message, “We have met the enemy and they are ours … ,” became one of history’s most famous declarations of victory. Erected in 1913 on the eastern tip of Presque Isle, the Perry Monument, and a statue of Perry, placed in 1985 on Erie’s public square, are reminders of his enduring legacy. Indeed, it is difficult to drive around Erie without encountering a street, subdivision, office building, or restaurant that pays homage to the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie.

Another Pennsylvania community that has commemorated our military past is the charming Centre County village of Boalsburg, one of the very first places to observe Memorial Day, in 1864. In the twentieth century, a farm owned by the prominent Boal family became a military training ground and, in the 1920s, the site of what has become well known as the 28th Division Shrine. In the twenties, retired officers of the 28th Division directed the construction of stone memorials, a “Memory Wall,” and landscape features that pay tribute to their comrades killed in World War I and to each unit that served as part of the 28th. Under the direction of the Pennsylvania Department of Military Affairs, development of this memorial continued after World War II with the planting of a five-acre grove of pine trees to simulate the Hurtgen Forest in Ger­many where the 28th Division experienced intense action during the Battle of the Bulge. In 1969, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission opened the Pennsylvania Military Museum to honor our citizen-soldiers. The PHMC repaired the older monuments, added a World War II memory wall in 1997, and is currently planning a major addition to the museum to tell the story of generations of Pennsylvania’s courageous patriots.

Perhaps the most controversial memorial in Pennsylvania is in Philadelphia, opposite the Franklin Institute. The All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors was authorized by the General Assembly of Pennsylvania in 1927 to recognize the “patriotic services of the colored soldiers of the Commonwealth.” Designed by J. Otto Schweizer, this beautiful memorial depicts the allegorical figure of Justice extending the symbols of Honor and Reward, flanked by large, handsome bronze statues representing each branch of the armed forces. Above this group four eagles surround a “Torch of Life.” At the time of its unveiling in 1934, the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors did not enjoy such a prominent location. A bitter debate between the city’s Art Jury and the black community resulted in a compromise that placed the memorial in an obscure location in Fairmount Park. Sixty years later, in 1994, after racial tensions eased, the memorial was relocated to the city’s heavily-trafficked Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

In our northeastern counties, the struggles of organized labor serve as the inspiration for public memory. The statue of John Mitchell, fifth president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), on Scranton’s Courthouse Square is an imposing symbol of the pivotal role of the union and its leadership throughout the anthracite region. Although Mitchell was born in Illinois and died in New York, he treasured his close ties with the hard coal miners and asked to be buried in Scranton. After his death in 1919, the UMWA commissioned Hazleton architect Peter Sheridan to design a statue of John Mitchell for a fee of six hundred dollars. The dedication ceremony in 1924 included speeches by Governor Gifford Pinchot, UMWA President John L. Lewis, and the Reverend J.J. Curran, known as the “labor priest.” Each year, on October 29, miners from throughout the coal region celebrate “Johnny Mitchell Day” and place a wreath at this memorial.

More modest but equally powerful is the Lattimer Massacre Monument near Hazleton, erected in 1972 in memory of twenty-five miners killed by sheriff’s deputies in 1897. Without the benefit of a notable designer or major sponsor, this monument nevertheless has become a touchstone for local organizations and for state and national groups who have identified Lattimer as one of the significant sites in the history of the American labor movement.

Preserving the Keystone State’s public art has engaged substantial support from organizations such as the Capitol Preservation Committee, the Pennsylvania Gettysburg Monuments Committee, and the Fairmount Park Commission. On a national level, Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!) has supported an extensive documentation campaign in Pennsylvania and elsewhere as a grant program for preservation. Clearly, we need to recognize the value of this extraordinary patrimony. Before we begin to plan and dedicate new public memorials, we should give the preservation of existing sites and structures the highest priority.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director