Letters


"Living Memorials" after the Civil War

I recently read with interest Andrew M. Shanken's revealing and timely (given 9/11) examination of memorials during World War II ("Planning Memory: Living Memorials in the United States during World War II," Art BulLetin 84 [2002]: 130-47). While discussion focuses on the war years (especially World War II), later in the article Shanken suggests that the idea of what he terms "living memorials" may stem from Reconstruction "or even earlier." It is on this point that I offer some evidence.

Just months after Appomattox, a lengthy piece entitled "Something about Monuments" appeared in the Nation (1, no. 5 [Aug. 3, 1865]: 154-56). The unsigned essay has relevance here because of its dismissal of conventional forms of monuments-the obelisk and "portrait statuary "-in favor of buildings.

A good building thus serving each present generation, and full of memories of a past generation of heroes; greeting every graduate who enters to share in literary or social festivity with welcome from a noble past; holding up, within and without, the names, to honor, of good men and true who have gone before-such a building would certainly be better than any huge pile erected to memory only.

A successful edifice, the essay concludes, must be fine and "noble," "rich and ornamental," and "built to last forever." Only then may it worthily serve "each present generation" as a "memorial building" or "living memorial," to repeat Shanken's phrase.

While Frederick Law Olmsted has been cited as the probable author (Peter G. Meyer, ed., Brushes with History: Writing on Art from "The Nation," 1865-2001 [New York: Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2001], xxii), Harvard Professor Charles Eliot Norton seems more likely because the essayist is clearly aware of projections for Harvard University's Memorial Hall, and besides, Olmsted was in California until October 22, 1865 (David Schuyler and Jane Turner Censer, eds., The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, vol. 6 [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992], 200). Norton gives his notions wider application by citing Yale University's plans to construct an addition to its University Chapel and, more significantly, makes reference to ongoing conversations about "memorial buildings" in post-Civil War United States. Of structures proposed, he assumes that half "which unite a practical use with their monumental purpose" will be realized within the next few years. A number is not stated, but no matter. The fact is that usefulness is part of the debate about commemoration directly ofter the trauma of the Civil War. The Nation's essay thus proves that consideration of "living memorials" did begin far earlier than World War II, in fact, by 1865, in reaction to the United States' first experience with "modern war."

LUCRETIA GIESE

Department of Art and Architectural History

Rhode Island School of Design

2 College Street

Providence, R.I. 02903

Response

Many thanks to Professor Giese for offering textual evidence to confirm the expectation that concern for living memorials ran through commemorative debates after the Civil War. I recently stumbled across architectural evidence in the form of the Madison Township Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Mansfield, Ohio, a museum erected in 1888 "in memory of the soldiers-sailors and the marines of all wars." This living memorial shows that Norton's interest in useful memorials was not completely drowned out by the profusion of bronze soldiers on plinths so often associated with the Civil War.

ANDREW M. SHANKEN

Department of Art

Oberlin College

Oberlin, Ohio 44074

A Question of Origins

In his review of my book Dominion of the Eye (Art Bulletin 84 [2002]: 170-72) Paolo Berdini alleges a number of omissions. This is, of course, what reviewers often do, and previously I have never written a response to a review of any of my books.

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