War memorials, monuments abound in Pittsburgh, but some in danger of being forgotten
May 29, 2016 12:10 AM
Detail on the torpedo tube from the USS Maine, part of a Spanish-American War monument on Pittsburgh's North Side.
This imposing gray granite monument is located where Sandusky Avenue meets the North Side's Allegheny Commons, the city's oldest park. The rectangular monument was erected "by the people of the 23rd Ward" in "honor of those who served gallantly in World War II," as well as in World War I.
The Hampton Battery Memorial, dedicated in 1897 to a local artillery company that fought in 17 Civil War battles before Capt. Robert B. Hampton was killed in one, is found on the city’s North Side.
By Bob Batz Jr. / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Lest We Forget” begins the carved inscription atop the imposing gray granite monument where Sandusky Street meets the North Side’s Allegheny Commons, the city’s oldest park.
The rectangular monument was erected “by the people of the 23rd Ward” in “honor of those who served gallantly in World War II,” as well as in World War I. That was at the entrance to the park, but in 2002 the monument was moved to what some veterans complained was a less prominent spot.
It’s been mostly downhill from there. Time has continued to take its toll, deteriorating the stone joints and obscuring some names with grime. More of the listed people have died, and there are fewer of their contemporaries to care for the monument — or to care at all.
But a renewed grass-roots effort aims to help repair, preserve and beautify the city’s war monuments and memorials, specifically on the North Side, including this one, which Joe Brown describes as “one of the forgotten monuments that we’re no longer forgetting.”
The Navy veteran and American Legion activist, who lives in Marshall-Shadeland, met at the monument on a recent morning with Councilwoman Darlene Harris and Mark Fatla of the Northside Leadership Conference. They and others first took up this issue in 2010, when a car-damaged Troy Hill monument led Ms. Harris to push through a bill requiring the city to inventory all of its war memorials and develop a plan to maintain them, a task that has fallen mostly to the public works department. The preliminary inventory was completed in 2011 but hasn’t been updated and for various reasons, the push stalled.
PG graphic: North Side War Memorials (Click image for larger version)
Mr. Fatla gets it. The city has a host of issues crying for attention. Its inventory found more than 120 war-related monuments, memorials and artworks, a total that even Mr. Brown found “mind-boggling,” and there are more than that. But rather than try to figure out how to help the city professionally care for all of them, their revitalized committee is going to try starting with the ones on the North Side.
Why? To recognize the people who served in these conflicts and, in the specific spirit of Memorial Day, to remember those who died in them. Plus, Mr. Fatla points out, to preserve what are “important pieces of public art.”
The North Side’s treasure trove ranges from the big three newer memorials (WWII, Korea, Vietnam) on the North Shore, which get plenty of attention, to tiny honor rolls tucked away in neighborhoods such as the 26th Ward, where one has been adopted for a decade by neighbor Jane Berbach.
Standouts include the nearby Hampton Battery Memorial, dedicated in 1897 to a local artillery company that fought in 17 Civil War battles before Capt. Robert B. Hampton was killed in one. The west side of the park includes a port hole and torpedo tube from the U.S.S. Maine, the 1898 explosion of which killed local resident Fred W. Jenkins and started the Spanish-American War. The city and county erected this memorial in 1914.
But it takes more than just local government to maintain them, Mr. Fatla said.
He’s offering his group to work with the city and a coalition that will help staff and execute a strategy to educate people about the various monuments and assess their needs. Then they will take on one restoration and beautification project per year, probably starting this fall with the Sandusky Street monument.
The Northside Veterans Monuments Initiative, as it’s tentatively being called, will build on a project that already succeeded there a few years ago, when Northside Leadership Conference worked with local business Pipitone Group, whose workers volunteered to clean up and landscape around the monument. An ill-timed heat wave killed the hemlocks they planted, but Mr. Fatla and Mr. Brown said they look forward to replanting those.
They said they hope that this time their effort will grow — from one monument to another in their neighborhood, and then, they hope, maybe spread to other city neighborhoods. As Mr. Fatla puts it, “If we can build this model that works, we’re more than happy to share it.”
It’s clear to them that it’ll take help and funding from a variety of sources. Coincidentally, earlier this month, a restoration began on another memorial landmark, the statue of Fame atop the tall pedestal on the west side of Allegheny Commons that honors the 4,000 local soldiers who died in the Civil War.
That project is being undertaken by the city. The Allegheny City Society, which helps keep an eye on it and other monuments, wants to chip in to have more work done, said member Ruth McCartan.
Mr. Fatla said that when that monument was erected in 1871, on a much more elaborate base atop what was then Monument Hill — where Community College of Allegheny County is — it was like the fountain at the Point today, “sort of the civic focal point.”
Mr. Brown, who once again this year is helping lead Memorial Day weekend observances in his neighborhood, is delighted for any attention shown to these monuments and memorials, because of the people they memorialize.
“I’m going to get a little mushy here,” he said. “This to me is a travesty if they’re going to forget about these guys. And women, too.”
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter: @bobbatzjr.
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