by Nancy Bertrand
The desire to honor the men of South Reading who fought in the Civil War gave birth to the South Reading Monument Association in 1867. This committee, chaired by Lilley Eaton, and including such luminaries as Solon O. Richardson, James M. and P.H.. Sweetser and Cyrus Wakefield, yielded a unusual result. Local entrepreneur Cyrus Wakefield offered to gift the Town a Town Hall which would include a War Memorial Room. So impressed was the committee with this result that they reported back to Town Meeting with a motion to rename the town in his honor. The resulting Town Hall, magnificent and spacious, included the War Memorial Room which held the marble entablature now adorning the West Wall in the hall of the present Town Hall. The furnishings for this room were given to the town by Mrs. Harriet Newell Flint. The War Memorial Room, while a wonderful tribute, must have seemed an insufficient tribute to the Civil War soldiers to Mrs. Flint, whose husband’s family traced its beginnings to the first settlers of the Town. In her will, she chose to rectify the situation.Upon her death in 1896, Mrs. Flint left the Town of Wakefield a number of bequests. Chief among them was this one: “I give and bequeath the same town of Wakefield the sum of ten thousand dollars ($10,000) to be held in trust by said town, and by them invested until said town of Wakefield may by public appropriation or private contribution or both, add a sum sufficient to erect a soldier’s monument in said town of Wakefield. Then both principal and interest are to be devoted to this object. And it is my wish, and I desire that the same monument when completed shall cost not less than the sum of ten thousand dollars: that it may be grant in itself, symmetrical in architecture, beautiful in design and finish, attended with solid, thorough workmanship – a monument worthy of the men to whom we dedicate it.”
This bequest was unanimously accepted at the Town Meeting on March 29, 1898. A committee of seven citizens of the town were appointed to producer designs, plans, estimates, cost and all necessary information pertaining to the erection of a soldier’s monument in Wakefield. This committee was empowered to cause the monument to be executed, with the stipulation that it be “a monument worthy of the true men to whom it may be dedicated.” Members of the committee were Harvey B. Evans, Stephen W. Lufkin, William L. Coon, William N. Tyler, Oliver Walton, Charles F. Hartshorne, and James Warren Poland. The $10,000 was, in the meantime, invested, and would earn interest of $1,779.76 in the four years until the monument was prepared. The entirety of this money would be spent upon the project, with $11,779.76 being spent upon the monument, its foundation and grading. A combination of public and private funds in the amount of $1,019.82 were spent on the dedicatory celebration, held on June 17, 1902.
The Van Amringe Granite Company of Boston was commissioned on March 22, 1901 to build the Monument. With offices at 3 Bromfield Street in Boston, the company’s motto promised “Quality,” “Durability,” “Originality” and “Moderate Price.” Many different sculptors have been associated with the company, including J. Otto Schweizer, Lee O. Lowrie, W. Clarke Noble and Cyrus E. Dallin, but the work on the Wakefield statue is generally attributed to the sculptor Melzar Hunt Mossman (1846-1926) of Chicopee, MA. Mosman, a veteran of the Civil War himself, was a well-known sculptor of public art with his best-known work being the bronze doors of the US Capitol Building and Soldier’s Monuments in Boston, Springfield and Middletown, Connecticut. The Van Amringe Granite Company was responsible for many prominent Civil War Monuments – at the Gettysburg battlefield alone they erected 87 monuments in granite bronze and marble. Other monuments stand at Antietam, Chickamaugua and Chattanooga Battlefield Park, Vermont, Illinois and throughout the nation. The figure on the summit of the Wakefield monument is modeled from the statue of Alonzo Morris, color bearer of the 13th Mass. Regiment, which surmounts the regiment’s monument in Gettysburg.
The dedication of the Monument took place on Tuesday, June 17th, 1902 with imposing ceremonies. The principle feature was a military parade beginning at 9:30 a.m. and consisting of volunteer militia from Wakefield, Stoneham, Boston, Malden, Medford, Woburn, Everett and Lynn. In addition numerous Grand Army posts took part, as did the Wakefield High School Cadets, the Sons of Veterans, the Wakefield Fire Department and detachments of U.S. Heavy Artillery and a Naval militia. In all, spectators believed that there were 1000 uniformed participants in the parade. Governor Crane was present for the occasion. (President Teddy Roosevelt, although invited, had another commitment for the day.) Colonel Edward J. Gihon of the Governor’s staff acted as Chief Marshall. The parade took a 2.5 mile route to the Common, where the procession was reviewed by the Governor. At 10:30 a.m., the ceremony of dedication took place. It included a band overture, an oration by Congressman Samuel W. McCall and the voices of 300 children from Wakefield Public Schools uplifted in song. The Wakefield Historical Society’s collection includes some photographic images of the day’s events and a copy of the newspaper supplement documenting the day’s events.
The granite monument, a striking and beautiful work of art on Wakefield Common, was dedicated to the memory of the men who fought and died in the Civil War, but, in the four figures (naval, infantry, artillery and cavalry) surrounding the column, it has come to symbolize the generations of men and women from this town who have served their country in the armed services. A testament to these individuals and to the nation which they served, the monument is, in the words of its dedication ceremony, “a tribute to the past, a pride for the present, a lesson to the future.” The Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, George M. Tompson, in accepting the monument, vowed “in the name and behalf of the citizens of Wakefield … (we) promise that it will ever be well and tenderly guarded.”