Traverse City Record-Eagle


April 11, 2011

121-year-old monument restored in 2005

TRAVERSE CITY -- Some old soldiers never die. They get a new coat and stronger body.

Traverse City's 121-year-old infantryman is one of them. He has stood watch atop his monument by the Grand Traverse Courthouse for more than a century, except for a one-and-a-half-year leave for an extreme makeover.

The sentinel, unveiled on May 30, 1890, before a massive crowd, was a gift from city residents to the area's aging Civil War veterans.

One good turn deserved another.

In 2004, great- and great-great grandsons of those "old Boys in Blue" raised $86,000 in donations to have the zinc soldier restored. Specialists in Cincinnati patched up his cracked and worn exterior, girded his interior with stainless steel supports and gave him a resilient coat of paint.

The soldier statue arrived in Traverse City just before Memorial Day 2005 and was rededicated on May 30, 115 years to the day he first set foot on his monument.

About 1,500 people attended that celebration and watched the local Robert Finch Camp No. 14 chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and others re-dedicate him to his eternal task of serving as a community reminder to honor those who fought and died to preserve the Union.

The Civil War was the nation's bloodiest fight from the American Revolution up to the Vietnam War. It took more than 620,000 Union and Confederate lives. Casualties on both sides totaled 1.2 million.

"It was a defining point of American history," Cmdr. Dale Aurand of the Finch Camp said. "It was what converted us to what we are today."

The Civil War erupted just 85 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Historians consider it one of the nation's most important eras because it preserved the Union and ensured the survival of American democracy and legacies of Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. It ended slavery, which enabled the growth of a collective American economy and began the long, ongoing process of improving race relations.

The Grand Traverse Herald told its readers the day before the first dedication that the 18-foot-6-inch soldier was more than a gift from city residents to the veterans. It was a gift to children, too. Just seeing it would beg questions and teach them little by little the story of that war and "what love of country means."

"Better than song or printed story, better than eloquent oration or words of patriots from aged lips will be the lesson they will learn from the silent soldier who watches their play, through summer's sunshine or winter storm, an educator whose lessons will be past all price."

The city's sentinel was placed in position five days before the dedication and covered with a white drape until its unveiling.

"In the dim moonlighted nights it has a most uncanny and ghost-like aspect and, as the night wind stirs the white sheet, one can fancy the soldier about to come down from the lofty pedestal and patrol the streets," the Herald reported on May 29.

The next day, lumber baron/town father Perry Hannah presented the monument to the veterans.

"Your silver locks and mine tell me that a quarter of a century has passed since brother fought against brother," he told the veterans. "In a few short years you and I will have taken our places with comrades that have already crossed the river "¦ but this monument will be here for generations yet to come."

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