Monday, May 7, 2012

THE NATION'S FIRST WORLD WAR I MONUMENT

GUIESSEPPI MORETTI
THE COUNTRY'S FIRST WORLD WAR I MEMORIAL

                                   


                       


            Despite its Canadian name, Toronto, Ohio has always been a city of patriotism and fierce national pride as currently displayed by its array of American flags lining its streets.  But never was Toronto’s patriotism more fervid than when it unveiled the nation’s first monument dedicated to the American soldiers and sailors who had fought in World War I.
            It was November 11, 1919, Armistice Day, one year after hostilities of the great war had ended that as many as an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people amassed in Toronto streets, which were decorated with patriotic colors from one end of the river-edged town to the other.  These spectators watched a parade of 3,000 marchers, led by 250 soldiers, sailors and marines, trailed by the Toronto band, various civic organizations, as well as 800 school children all carrying tiny American flags.
            After the paraded concluded, the soldiers marched to town square where the War Commission awarded the servicemen bronze medals and made a few speeches, and then the honored defenders and public dignitaries crossed Market Street to the First Presbyterian Church where they ate a chicken diner prepared under the direction of Mrs. Mary Hanna and assisted and sponsored by the Daughters of America.
            After diner, the servicemen stepped outside under mild mid-autumn weather across to town square as the shadow of the five-ton statue canted eastward under the two-o’clock sun.  A large white cross now loomed on a platform before the veiled monument and standing before it were eleven girls clad in white, clasping a red rose, each girl representing the ten fallen sons and one fallen daughter of the Toronto area.
            The crowd of 3,000, settled and quiet, watched with eager anticipation a Miss McClean draw the cord encasing the ten-foot high monument that many of them had personally contributed to financially.  As Miss McClean swept her arm toward the glistening bronze statue, the crowd erupted into resounding applause.
            Present at the unveiling was Guiesseppe Moretti, whom the Toronto War Board had commissioned to sculpt the monument, of which the artist stated, “It represents the glorious liberty with the American soldiers and sailors by her side.”
            Moretti, 62 years of age at the ceremonies, was an Italian émigré who had gained fame in America for his public monuments cast in bronze and marble, most notably his work “Vulcan” in Birmingham, Alabama, still the largest cast iron statue in the world.  Other important works of his included the Stephen Collins Foster memorial and the entrance to Highland Park in Pittsburgh, where he had resided much of his life.
            Moretti was known as an eclectic personality who always wore a green tie.  Undoubtedly he was wearing his trademark color as he stepped off the podium, standing before the towering five-ton memorial he had completed in just six months.
            Next United States Congressman Benjamin Frank Murphy took the platform.  Murphy, a Republican representing the district, won election for six successive terms.  He gave a brief speech of welcome to the crowd and servicemen and then introduced keynote speaker William D. Upshaw, recently elected by Georgia voters to Congress.
            A son of a Confederate soldier and a staunch Southern Baptist, Upshaw was a strong supporter of the temperance movement, so much, in fact, he was known as the “driest of drys.”  Prior to his election to Congress, Upshaw served as vice president for the Anti-Saloon League and was instrumental with making prohibition a Georgia law by 1907.
            Upshaw, suffering from a spinal injury that occurred at age 18, and now 52, leaned upon crutches as he addressed the crowd with his passionate deep Southern drawl.  “I congratulate Toronto, Ohio on being the first community in America to erect and dedicate a monument to the glory of the living and the memory of the dead who fought for the safety of America and for the living of the world.”
            After several minutes of continued praise for the town’s patriotism and for its being a role model as an American melting pot, Upshaw segued into sermonizing upon the other war that was threatening the individual’s freedom.  “…in order that America may be kept clean for them—for those who come back to us in buoyant manhood or stagger back to us maimed or blind, reaching out their hands for encouragement from the nation for which they offered their all.  We have learned that if it required a sober citizen to live well and teaching this vital lesson to the nations now new-born in their freedom from autocracy, but still shackled by the slavery of drink, is America’s new mission to the peoples who have been set free.”
            Ironically, Upshaw’s visit to the Gem City failed to influence the citizens’ attitude toward consumption of alcoholic beverages because a little more than 50 years later in 1970, a poll conducted by “Time Magazine” listed Toronto the city consuming the most alcohol per capita in the United States.
            In 1932, Upshaw ran as presidential candidate for the Prohibition Party against Franklin D. Roosevelt, who favored the repeal of prohibition, and was overwhelmingly defeated.
William D. Upshaw
Lamplight Assisted Living Coming to Toronto soon.
            In 2004, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was restored by the Toronto Beautification Committee and accepted in the National Register of Historic Places.