Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: Partial restoration of war monument brings attention to other worn memorials
May 30, 2016 12:00 AM
Don McDavitt/Graciano Corp.
Sculptor Wayne Ferree with the statue of Fame
Don McDavitt/Graciano Corp.
The eagle restored
The original Soldiers Monument.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Two sandstone heads hit the ground under a bolt of lightning in 2008. They belonged to the Soldiers’ Monument in Allegheny Commons Park.
North Siders who value the neighborhood’s historic features are celebrating today the restoration of this grand memorial to the 4,000 Allegheny County soldiers who died in the Civil War.
“But not just for the neighborhood, for the whole city,” said Federico Siegert, the project architect. “It’s beautiful.”
The monument is a massive granite spire on a sandstone base, topped by the 11.5-foot tall statue of Fame. Fame and an eagle figure closer to the base both lost their heads in the storm.
The eagle sits on a stone carved with the dates 1861-1865.
Wayne Ferree of Tunkhannock, Wyoming County, has resculpted the eagle’s head out of limestone and set it in place with exterior stone epoxy. He likened the installation to crowning a tooth. He is preparing to recast Fame’s head and ascend the lofty heights of an aluminum scaffold to set it in place.
When the memorial was dedicated in 1871, it sat on Monument Hill, which is now part of the Community College of Allegheny County. It was so much grander in that setting, atop a 40-by-50-foot foundation.
It was dismantled and only the spire was established in the park in 1931.
Mr. Ferree said the entire monument has a lot of damage, most of it due to water having eroded its sandstone features.
In almost 10 years of walking my dog, hundreds of times past that monument, I have read the etched words on a plaque along its foundation. The etching has lost its sharpness but the words haven’t: “Erected to the memory of the 4,000 men of Allegheny County who fell in the great struggle to maintain the integrity of our union. The eye of God rests upon their graves even when unmarked by man, and their sleeping dust shall rise on the morning of the resurrection.”
This is the official day to reflect on lives lost, but war memorials might remind us every day that war is a degradation of man and an inherent tragedy, especially when one side is fighting to defend its perceived right to enslave others.
Memorials are also pieces of public art, and they honor us when we honor them.
Allegheny Commons Park has a number of memorials, some in tribute to great men. On one end of the Aviary is a statue of George Washington and on the other is a statue of Thomas Armstrong, a local labor and veterans’ advocate in the 1800s.
The Armstrong statue, which was dedicated in 1889, needs a nose job and a new left hand, left foot and coattail.
The repairs to the Soldiers’ Monument and the Armstrong statue will cost $81,000, which amounts to three years of the city’s fund for monuments and art conservation, said Andrew Dash, the city’s assistant director of strategic planning.
Work on the Soldiers’ Monument will not be a complete restoration. The restoration of the heads and pointing and cleaning will complete the project. The Allegheny City Society hopes to help pay for some mortar repairs that are not in the city’s contract with Graciano Corp., a local masonry contractor, while the scaffolding is still up. The scaffolding alone ate up half the budget.
“We have talked about a partnership that would extend our funds a little further,” Mr. Dash said.
The city did a monument inventory several years ago and assessed the condition of the statuary it owns. It dedicated these funds because of the prominence of the pieces and the extent of their damage, he said.
In the 1990s, the Allegheny City Society raised money to move the stone with the Soldiers’ Monument’s dedication off the ground, where people had walked on it, and onto the foundation wall, said its president, Ruth McCartan.
The original sculptor was Peter C. Reniers. The original monument included six features that represented the artillery, cavalry, infantry and the Navy. No one seems to know what happened to those features or to the imperial-looking foundation that never made it down to the park.
Was it bashed into rubble? Was it buried by bulldozers? Many people wonder how such large pieces can just disappear without a notation in the record.
But it’s more important to care for what we have when we can. It is to the city’s credit that it saved up small annual allocations and devoted them to restoring some of our most historic public art.
Diana Nelson Jones: email@example.com or 412-263-1626.
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