MONUMENTAL EXPERIENCE

Mound City National Cemetery
Mound City, Illinois

The cold rungs of the metal ladder cramped the palm of my right hand as I climbed to the top of the memorial. It was also wet and slippery from the morning fog. I was told not to look down as I moved closer to the top. I recalled one worker’s attempt to reassure me with a comment about his 80 year old grandfather. “He climbs much taller memorials,” he told me.

It wasn’t a long climb; only 55 feet with the last 40 or so up a single ladder with a protective cage around it. I guess that cage would give you a second chance if you slipped. As you fell, you’d be able to catch yourself. You’d get a nasty bruise or maybe even a broken or dislocated arm as you hooked yourself on that cage.

Gravity gives second chances for a price.

I stepped onto the shaky platform and made eye contact with her. She stands nine feet and faces west. Huge hands hold the implements of war – a sword in the right and a shield on the left. Her bare left foot rests on a large book. She’s dressed in a flowing garb stained from the tons of grit kicked up from ten thousand storms. On this day, she would get a delicate make-over. Nothing too dramatic, the mason conservator told me. Just a rinse to remove black grit that could damage the Italian marble. The greenish tint would stay. She’d still look her age, although no one is certain what it might be.

Illinois built the Civil War monument in 1875 at a cost of $25,000.00.  Large marble tablets list the known burials according to state or boat. One panel lists “miscellaneous” and includes the name of “Mrs. H. Lutz, Matron”.  I’d love to know her story. Beautifully carved likenesses of a soldier and sailor adorn the memorial at the lower level where the column rises.

I know from my research at the National Archives the monument was last restored in 1900. I’ve heard a story that the original liberty was damaged at some point and the one I met is a replacement. The story says the original lady Liberty was dropped and that she had to be replaced – that was in the 1960s.

This statue is the focal point of so much of my photography, assuming I have the right lens. I captured a sunset image of her with a very large lens I rented from B and L Photo in Carbondale, Illinois.  That image appears on the cover of the brochure I developed for the Mound City National Cemetery Preservation Commission. Otherwise, few people seem to be aware of the statue at the top of the memorial.

At that level, it is easy to imagine you’re elevated in a heavenly perch above the clouds.  Earth appears dreamlike, an unreal world where the dead exist in a state of perpetual honor – watched over and protected by Liberty – and the object of all those sacrificed lives at rest below.

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