Monday, October 8, 2018

Monuments in Wisner Park

by Erin Doane, Curator

For generations, people have been going to Wisner Park to meet with friends, gather for celebrations, speak out about various causes, shop for summer produce, and simply sit and enjoy the green space. In 1875, the Elmira Daily Advertiser declared the spot “one of the pleasantest in this city and hardly equaled in any place in the state or country." It is also a spot to commemorate local heroes. The park is dotted with nearly a dozen statues and memorials.

View of the eastern half of Wisner Park from above, c. 1950s

Thomas K. Beecher Statue, 1901
The first statue erected in Wisner Park was dedicated to Thomas K. Beecher. In 1854, Beecher came to Elmira to preach at the Independent Congregational Church, now known as Park Church. He served as minister there for 46 years. Just two days after his funeral in 1900, Col. William C. Buck called for a suitable monument to be erected in Wisner Park to honor Beecher. Eminent sculptor Jonathan Scott Hartley was hired to create the statue and it was dedicated in 1901.

Postcard showing children posing near the statue of Thomas K. Beecher, c. 1910s

Exedra, 1924
In 1919, at the end of World War I, a Victory Arch was built across Main Street near Wisner Park. People gathered there to welcome home the soldiers of Company L. A temporary honor roll inscribed with 96 names of local soldiers who died in the war was erected there as well. On Memorial Day 1924, a permanent monument to those who served in the war was dedicated . Exedra stands “in honor of the heroes” and “in memory of those who gave their lives.” In 1936, Harry B. Bentley Post 443 of the American Legion added an eternal light in front of the monument.

Postcard showing the temporary honor roll, 1919
Postcard showing permanent Exedra monument, c. 1920s

The Hiker, 1929
In 1929, a second war monument was added to the park. “The Hiker” statue honors those who fought in the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Philippine-American War. Elmira’s statue is one of at least 50 copies throughout the United States. The original statue was created by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson for the University of Minnesota in 1906. The Common Council of Elmira and the Chemung County Board of Supervisors each contributed $2500 to purchase and erect the monument.

A gathering of veterans at The Hiker statue, date unknown

World War II Monument, 1949
During World War II, a temporary marker was placed in Wisner Park in memory of local soldiers who gave their lives in service. In 1949, the Harry B. Bentley Post erected a permanent monument honoring the 292 people who died and the 12,000 who served from Chemung County.

World War II monument, 2018

Korean and Vietnam Wars Monument, 1987
A monument honoring Chemung County men and women who served their country and gave their lives in Korea and Vietnam was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1987.

Korean and Vietnam Wars monument, 2018

Fallen Officers Memorial, 2000
On November 11, 2000, the Elmira Police Department unveiled a monument dedicated to fallen officers. It lists four men – Chief John J. Finnell, Sergeant Charles Gradwell, Officer August R. Michalke, and Sergeant John C. Hawley – who gave their lives in the line of duty.

Fallen Officers Memorial, 2018

Other Monuments
While walking around Wisner Park last week, I noticed there were several other smaller monuments that I had not noticed before. Near the Exedra monument are two black stone monuments carved to look like books. They are dedicated to two local Medal of Honor recipients, Thomas P. Gere and John Denny.

Medal of Honor monuments, 2018
Also, in the center of the eastern half of the park is a flag pole. Its base is a monument “In tribute to the honorable men and women who gallantly serve our country as we strive to preserve freedom throughout the world and establish a just and lasting peace.” It was erected by Chemung County AFL-CIO labor assembly.
Flagpole monument, 2018


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