I have never been a formal student of memory and memorial culture, but the process, expressions, and artifacts of remembrance have fascinated me from the time that I was a little girl, growing up just down the street from the Justin Smith Morrill Homestead on the Justin Smith Morrill Memorial Highway (which we knew just as the road to South Strafford) in Strafford, Vermont and then moving to the equally past-focused town of York, Maine. Here in Salem, memorials are all around me, and some I take notice of on a regular basis while others escape my attention–why? I’ve been thinking about the distinction between individual and collective memorialization for some time: in the past, initiatives seem to have focused on the remembrance of individuals while we focus on the event, or the collective victims and/or participants related to that event. This seems like a basic divide between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and it was really driven home to me as I walked around Savannah last week. Savannah is a city of statues as much as it is of squares: these two distinguishing features go hand in hand. I did not take a precise inventory, but those statues erected to the memory of individuals definitely made a firmer impression on my memory, although sometimes (as in the notable case of Forsyth Park) you can see both, side by side.
The Confederate War Memorial and Lafayette McLaws Statue in Forsyth Park, Savannah.
Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, at which over 350 men died, and many, many more were wounded: more British than American. It was truly a Pyrrhic victory for the British, and therefore ultimately inspirational for the Americans, as was the tragic death of Dr. Joseph Warren, prominent Son of Liberty, President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, the man who enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes to put out the word that the British were indeed coming, and newly-commissioned Major General, who nonetheless engaged in the battle as a private soldier with a borrowed musket. Warren was shot in the face by his assailant and thrown in a mass grave by the British after the battle, but his body was recovered months later by Revere and his younger brother John, a Salem doctor, even after his martyrdom had been established by John Trumbull’s iconic painting, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775. The Doctor Patriot has been memorialized in many ways: through the naming of towns across New England and the United States, streets (I’m not sure about Warren Street here in Salem), statutes and statues. The first Bunker Hill Memorial was a Warren Memorial, erected by his Masonic brothers; it was replaced by the 221-foot-high obelisk commemorating the entirety of the battle in 1843. But Dr. Warren did not retreat from the field entirely: an adjacent exhibit lodge was built in the late nineteenth century to house his statue, one of several in Boston. While I certainly would not want to displace the statue of Colonel William Prescott that stands before the Bunker Hill Monument, I would also like to see Dr. Warren there, outside, although maybe that would spoil that stark individual vs. collective aesthetic of the site.
John Trumbull’s Death of General Warren, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Frontispiece to the H.H. Brackenridge play The Battle of Bunkers-hill: a dramatic piece, of five acts, 1776, Library of Congress; Masonic Warren Memorial on Bunker Hill and present day Bunker Hill Monument in 1920, Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library, and today, with Colonel William Prescott “on guard”; Photograph of the Masonic Warren Statue by Henry Dexter, Southworth and Hawes, 1851, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Warren Memorial Statue on Warren Street in his native Roxbury, before it was removed to West Roxbury by a street widening project (Roxbury wants it back), Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library; the Warren Tavern in Charlestown, built as a “memorial” of sorts to Warren in 1780.