The names and legacies of soldiers throughout U.S. history continue to live on through the many war memorials located throughout the United States. These memorials are constructed and dedicated to specific wars, battles, and the veterans that fought in them. Some memorials serve the specific purpose of immortalizing the men and women who lost their lives fighting to defend our country. These monuments serve as vehicles to never forget the contributions that these lost lives made to the country. The town of Poughkeepsie maintains the two such war monuments: the Soldiers Memorial Fountain honoring fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War, and the World War I memorial, which is dedicated to those killed in the First World War.
The Soldiers Memorial Fountain is an impeccably crafted cast iron fountain dedicated to Union soldiers killed during the Civil War. The monument was constructed shortly after the Civil War in July of 1870. There are actually three nearly identical fountains to the one in Poughkeepsie. The fountains were purchased from James, Beebe & Co., an Ironworks firm located in New York City. The design of the fountain is believed to be a combined emulation of various French artists, primarily Jean-Pierre-Victor Andre, from the mid-19th century. One is located in Savannah, Georgia, one in Madison, Indiana, and the fourth in Cusco, Peru.
When I arrived at the fountain, I first noticed accumulated rust and damage endured by the monument, as it has not been restored since 1999. This degradation was quickly outshone by the captivating figures featured on the fountain. It is topped by a woman and the base is circled by four mermen wielding horned instruments. The woman topping the fountain seems to represent Minerva, the Greek Goddess of wisdom, medicine, commerce, and war strategy. Minerva is commonly associated with victory, and tactical thought when depicted in mediums of art. The woman is revealing one breast, which is a common symbol for liberty among French artists. The mermen surrounding the bottom are likely complementing pieces to Minerva, and to further cement the symbolism of the piece. Furthermore, their horned instruments pointed up into the air can symbolize heaven, and the hope that all of those lost in the Civil War went to heaven. Because of the history surrounding the imitation of the design and French symbolism, it can be inferred that this statue stands for victory, liberty, and possibly religious faith as well.
The mermen along the base of the fountain
The second war monument located in Poughkeepsie is the World War I memorial, located across from the post office. Erected in 1937 by the citizens of the city of Poughkeepsie, the monument serves to honor residents who lost their lives during World War I. Unlike the intricate cast iron design of the Soldiers Memorial Fountain, the World War I memorial is a stone slab that lists the rank and full name of the 63 Poughkeepsie residents that didn’t make it back home. I was immediately drawn to the fact that the monument itself looks like a tombstone. The gray coloring and tombstone style shape are visual reinforcements that remind the viewer that the names listed sacrificed their lives for a cause bigger than them. Even with this grim design choice, I still found the monument beautiful due to its simplicity, and found these somber design choices to be especially powerful in getting me to think deeper about these soldiers, the lives they gave up, and what they provided for future generations of Americans.
The World War 1 Monument in Poughkeepsie
The construction of monuments is crucial to the preservation of American history, and serve as excellent vehicles to honor the loss of life that war creates. While these fallen heroes may be physically removed from this planet, their names, stories, and contributions to society live on through the monuments we build.
– Sean Hayden, Marist ’18