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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Monumental task worth doing, history tells us

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

From my own personal perspective, this doesn't qualify as anything close to a dead-end job. But it sure seems as though I have been spending an inordinate amount of time in cemeteries lately.

I don't know whether that speaks more to my interest in local history or to the age of some of my friends (man, they're getting old!) and their beloved family members.

Regardless, let's hope it's not a harbinger of things to come. After all, until recently, cemeteries were something I had hoped to stay out of for as long as humanly possible.

But on a recent visit to Boone-Hutcheson Cemetery, the beauty of the rural surroundings captivated me. The property was nothing short of beautiful to behold with its well-manicured grounds and the gorgeous backdrop of the Big Walnut Valley creating postcard-like photo opportunities all around.

Some of those uninvited nocturnal visitors who frequent the grounds ought to come look at it in the light of day. Talk about a new appreciation of your surroundings!

Subsequently, a brief stop at Blackstock Cemetery to look for a specific headstone of the first Putnam County soldier killed during the Civil War evolved into a local history lesson. Old headstones beckoned right and left, offering brief but intriguing details about lives so long ago lost.

Likewise, an excursion to Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle to grab a couple of photos to publicize a Heritage Preservation Society event proved equally enlightening. Again, I found myself immersed in local history, surrounded by the presence of Lilly family members, the gravesite of Pearl Bryan (but not her head), the resting place of Revolutionary War Sgt. Cunningham (but not his body) and others of local note.

What I had come to dutifully document was the deteriorating state of the historic Civil War Soldiers Monument that stands nearly 30 feet high and bears the names of 321 valiant Putnam County soldiers who died during the epic War Between the States.

The monument was designed to be a "crowning eminence" in the local cemetery -- which had opened south of Greencastle's city limits at the time -- just five years earlier.

The Civil War Round Table of West Central Indiana has called the Forest Hill monument "one of the true hidden treasures around here." It was just the third such memorial to Civil War soldiers to be erected in Indiana after the war. And to this day, it remains one of the more unique, experts agree.

"There is no other figure like him in the state," the website Sculptural Civil War Monuments in Indiana states regarding what it calls "the unusually seated cavalry soldier."

The statue of the soldier atop the monument is considered a "faithful portrayal of a Civil War volunteer," according to documents from the 1870 dedication ceremony.

Suffice it to say, such a monument needs to be preserved. And acting now, during the 150th anniversary observance of the Civil War, is not only motivated by perfect timing but preservation necessity.

And as I sit here, writing this piece from my little corner of the world -- a couple floors about the courthouse square -- it is not lost on me how significant this perch must be.

For it was right here, albeit a few feet below where I sit (about second-floor courthouse level), where longtime predecessor George Langsdale, onetime editor of the Greencastle Banner, spearheaded a movement that would result in the erection of the famed Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis.

On a wintry eve in 1875, it was Langsdale who proposed launching a movement to erect a monument honoring Hoosier veterans of the war, editorializing that "it would seem that they are in absolute need of a soldiers' monument over at Indianapolis, and that quickly let it be erected in the most public place and then the school children massed around it and told for what the Union soldier which it typifies fought and died."

His battle cry was ultimately answered. I can only hope for a similar result for our current call to arms, urging the coalition of a group dedicated to preserving our Civil War monument at Forest Hill.

It's a monumental task pure and simple. But certainly not as monumental in terms of being as colossal or enormous in its undertaking as the Soldiers and Sailors Monument project or its most recent revitalization.

Rest assured, we need to make it happen or lose a piece of our history we'd all live to regret.

George Langsdale would never let that happen.

And here's a promise: Neither will I.