I frequently visit WILL’s option: Watch PBS Video Online. I like the series “10 That Changed America.” Pick your category: homes, towns, parks, buildings, monuments, modern engineering marvels.
Each documentary is chronological and factual. It’s a challenge to recall the 10 and fun to replay them.
The list for monuments is this: No. 1: Bunker Hill Monument, Boston, 1843, model for the Washington, D.C., Monument; No. 2: Standing soldiers monuments to Civil War dead in towns and cities of South and North in years after 1865; No. 3: Statue of Liberty, New York City, 1886; No. 4: Robert Gould Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial, Boston Commons, 1897; No. 5: Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., 1922; No. 6: Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, 1941; No. 7: Gateway Arch, St. Louis, 1965; No. 8: Vietnam War Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C., 1982; No. 9: AIDS Memorial Quilt, traveling from Washington, D.C., National Mall through U.S., 1987; No. 10: Oklahoma City National Memorial, Oklahoma City, 2000.
I don’t have to think beyond a second to state my favorite local monument. Though it is a response to war, it is titled “Peace Monument.” Still puzzled?
Next clue: It is in Lincoln Hall on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana. You have to play detective to find it in an inner courtyard, but the search is worth it. It is richly and creatively symbolic. I find it extraordinary.
It is a plaque-style sculpture (called bas-relief) on a single slab of concrete. It is 4-by-10 feet. The years of U.S. participation in post-1900 wars are presented in appropriate typography. At the bottom in semi-Gothic serif script is 1917, the year the U.S. left peace to enter World War I. Above that are the war years in broken jumbled numbers of 1918 and 1919. More jumbled numbers above these mark World War II and Korean War years, but in the simpler typeface then used by newspapers to record casualties.
Atop these are the computer-arranged fonts of the 1960s and later. The number 9 is cut off on the right edge of the sculpture to indicate the ongoing nature of war. Alas, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are proof.
Embedded and molded combat items represent participation: bayonets, military helmets, rifles and plowshares. The symbolism of plowshares was consciously made to reflect not only the “swords into plowshares” passage from Isaiah 2:4, but also the Midwestern farms that sent their young men to serve.
In 1968, the memorial was commissioned for their 50th anniversary gift by the UI classes of 1918 and 1919. (The honorary chairman was George Halas, founder of the Chicago Bears and the NFL.) It was conceived and carried out by Donald J. Molnar, the official UI landscape architect at the time. It was installed in its interior Lincoln Hall courtyard at homecoming, November 1969.
In 2009, it was removed and placed in storage when the $60 million restoration of Lincoln Hall began. It remained there when Lincoln Hall re-opened in 2012. In 2014, Chancellor Phyllis Wise ordered it moved back, declaring, “There is no more appropriate home than Lincoln Hall, our most historic monument to student learning on campus.”
In 2015, it was replaced in the courtyard minus the original companion fountain. Its water pipes had been disconnected during renovation. Architect Molnar graciously accepted the change, noting that the rust on the metal pieces effectively symbolizes soldiers’ blood, sweat and tears. He concluded about the eroded helmets in particular: “The value of time passing, time lost and the potential of a tear in its own time to conquer the strongest steel is a dramatic lesson.”
When I have out-of town visitors, I take them to see Lincoln sites, including the presidential museum in Springfield. We then have a more leisurely follow-up day for the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington. (Davis worked on the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court with Lincoln and was later appointed by him to the U.S. Supreme Court.) On the way back, we park on campus and walk the Quad to Lincoln Hall. We seek out the small southeast corner courtyard, where a few students sit at tables if the weather is warm enough. The sunlight and silence are conducive to study. There is protection from wind.
We read the plaque with explanation of symbols and story. Even without the murmur of the original fountain with water, the “Peace” memorial gives a final brief but powerful impact about the Illinois connection with national history.