Decatur prepares to celebrate 100th anniversary of its Peace Monument
The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind.
It's a story steeped in triumph and tragedy -- and possibly a little urban legend.
Decatur will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its Peace Monument with a rededication ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Adams County Courthouse Square.
The ceremony during the community's Kekionga Festival also salutes the effort to raise more than $40,000 to restore the monument to its original look and to add a Wall of Peace behind it, which will list the names U.S. military veterans with an Adams County connection who have served since 1913.
"People drive by it every day and don't really realize the true meaning of it," said Max A. Miller of Decatur, a history enthusiast, member of the monument restoration committee and author of a new book about the monument, "Adams County, Indiana, Peace Monument: The 100-Year History."
The idea to build the monument came from early 1900s community leader French Quinn, who was in charge of placing flowers on the graves of Adams County Civil War veterans on Decoration Day, the predecessor of today's Memorial Day, Miller said.
Just after Memorial Day 1912, Quinn wrote a column in the Decatur Daily Democrat newspaper stating the community needed a monument to honor Civil War veterans, Miller said. The Grand Army of the Republic, an organization formed by Union military veterans after the Civil War ended, quickly took up the cause.
A petition drive led to passage of a tax levy of 7 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation to pay for design and construction of a monument, Miller said. The project budget was $10,000.
Quinn offered a lot of input on the monument theme and design, Miller said. Officials wanted it to show "the peace that war brings," he added.
The front of the monument shows a female figure of peace in full armor, with her shield down, her sword in its sheath and her hand resting on flags and a laurel twig, Miller said
A smaller carved scene on the back of the monument honors women in war, with a battlefield nurse attending to an injured soldier. The carving originally stood over a waterfall fountain, which the current project will restore.
A wall behind the monument lists the names of more than 1,200 U.S. military veterans who were born in, lived in or connected with Adams County, Miller said. The names range from a few Revolutionary War vets to those who served in the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Quinn and Decatur leaders took their ideas to the Chicago Art Institute, Miller said, where they were directed to teacher Charles Mulligan, who they hired to design the monument, which is made of Indiana limestone.
The statue of the female figure of peace and the nurse were crafted by stone carver Charles Dodd of Bedford, Miller said. Dodd reportedly used stone from the same quarry that supplied the limestone for construction of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis.
Decatur contractor George Wemhoff built the monument base and assembled it once all the pieces arrived.
Construction started in July 1913 and the dedication took place Oct. 30 of that year. The dedication had to be delayed by two weeks because the monument wasn't ready on time, Miller said.
Despite gloomy weather and the threat of snow, Indiana Gov. Samuel M. Ralston and various other state officials traveled to Decatur for the ceremony.
Sadly, shortly after dedication of the peace monument, both of Quinn's children died, Miller said.
His daughter died after contracting an ear infection. His son, age 16, worked for the Interurban electric trolley system where his father was the controller. While on top of a coal car, he stood up to watch a passenger car go by and his head hit electrical wires. He died about four months later of an infection.
After its completion, Decatur officials quickly began referring to the monument as the nation's first peace monument. They now use the phrase "the nation's first monument dedicated solely to peace."
It could be argued Decatur's structure is pre-dated by at least one other peace monument -- the Peace Monument built in 1877-78 outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to commemorate naval deaths at sea during the Civil War.
In the years since its dedication, Decatur's Peace Monument has survived with relatively little care.
The steps were repaired in the late 1990s, and the monument was cleaned and its bronze plaques sealed in 2008, Miller said.
Along with rebuilding the waterfall fountain, the 100th anniversary restoration includes installing limestone in a portion of the limestone walkway in front of the fountain that previously was replaced with concrete.
Workers also will construct a brick Wall of Peace to hold the names of Adams County veterans who have served the country since the dedication of the peace monument in 1913. The existing monument has no room for additional names, Miller said.
Name bricks in the Wall of Peace cost $70 for a 4-inch-by-8-inch brick with three lines of text and $135 for an 8-inch-by-8-inch brick containing six lines of text. Proceeds will be used to restore the monument.
The restoration committee also is raising money through the sale of a peace monument 100th anniversary collector coin and of Miller's book. But the largest source of money has been community donations, Miller said.