My wife and I spent Fourth of July week in Cleveland, visiting friends and stepping onto some of the sets of my next novel. One was the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on Public Square downtown, which at 125 feet high, is dwarfed by skyscrapers: 200 Public Square (658 ft), Terminal Tower (708 ft), and Key Tower (947 ft—nineteenth tallest in U.S.). The memorial, which commemorates local men and women who served in the Civil War, opened on July 4 1884. Architect Levi Scofield designed it and created the sculptures.
Atop its granite shaft, a bronze Goddess of Freedom holds a Shield of Liberty. At ground level are sculptures of a cavalry unit fighting with pistols and sabers, an infantry color guard, an artillery unit, and a Navy mortar team with an African American sailor helping load a mortar. Inside the Memorial, beneath the shaft, are four bronze reliefs representing the “Women’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Aid Society,” “Beginning of the War in Ohio,” “The End of the War—the Peacemakers at City Point, Va.,” and “Emancipation of the Slave,” Lincoln holding up the shackles of a kneeling slave and handing him a rifle. The walls of the room are inscribed with the names of the more than 9000 residents of Cuyahoga County (greater Cleveland) who served in the Civil War, 1700 of whom died in the effort.
In my novel, black teenager Walter whispers to two white friends inside the memorial, “Mr. Lincoln setting Negroes free—it makes this a sacred space. This and that lady on top, holding that liberty shield…. Can you feel the spirit of freedom in this room?… It’s thick in here. It comes down the shaft from that lady on top and out of this sculpture and all those names… The question is: a hundred years after emancipation, are we free?” [novel takes place in 1960]
I also felt humbled to be in that place, surrounded by those names, and feeling their sacrifice. I enjoyed talking with docent Tim Leslie. Thanks, Tim, for a great tour.