10 Monuments That Changed America
America is filled with iconic monuments. From the Washington Monument to the AIDS Memorial Quilt, join Geoffrey Baer on a whirlwind tour of 10 monuments that changed America!
Carved into the rock of the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore honors George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. But for the Lakota tribes who call this sacred ground, it’s a painful reminder of the US’ requisitioning of their land.
1. Lincoln Memorial
Amid the memorial’s many inscriptions is the Second Inaugural Address, one of the most powerful speeches in history. The text, like the sculpture, inspires visitors.
Henry Bacon’s faux-Greek temple includes a colonnade with 36 Doric columns, each representing a state in the Union at Lincoln’s time. Its interior walls are covered by murals that evoke his guiding principles. In its early decades, African Americans used the monument as a place to reclaim its promise of equality. They saw in it a symbol of their own liberation from Jim Crow oppression.
2. Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is a national icon, attracting over 2 million visitors annually. The imposing sculpture was created over 14 years, with almost 400 workers contributing to the work’s completion. Most of the presidential heads were sculpted by Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who also worked on Stone Mountain in Georgia.
Originally South Dakota historian Doane Robinson wanted to sculpt Western heroes like Oglala Lakota leader Red Cloud, explorers Lewis and Clark, and Buffalo Bill Cody into the Black Hills’ stone pinnacles called the Needles. But Borglum was convinced to scale the project up to a national monument that celebrated America’s history and spirit.
3. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
In 1981, a competition was held for a memorial to be built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The winning design was by Maya Lin, then a 21-year-old architecture student at Yale University. Her simple design—a wall of inscribed names—was controversial because it lacked the traditional symbolism of war memorials, such as a flag or heroic sculpture.
The inscriptions, beginning and ending at the center of the wall, serve as a continuum to represent an unfinished war. Visitors now leave rubbings of the names, connecting the living to those who died.
4. AIDS Memorial Quilt
When AIDS began to spread in 1985, gay rights activist Cleve Jones asked people attending a march to tape placards listing their lost loved ones to a San Francisco federal building. The result looked like a patchwork quilt, inspiring him to create the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
In November 2019, the NAMES Project Foundation, which cares for the Quilt, transferred a collection of more than 200,000 objects to the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center. The archival materials are now available to researchers. The Quilt remains a visible reminder of the ongoing global epidemic.
5. Bunker Hill Monument
The giant granite obelisk that towers over Boston isn’t the oldest monument in America nor the tallest or most technically impressive. Yet it was crucial in helping citizens of a new United States forge a common identity and celebrate a shared history.
It celebrated a victory that proved raw colonial militia could hold their ground against one of the world’s most powerful armies. The monument became a symbol of the unyielding spirit of American freedom. It remains a beloved stop on the Freedom Trail.
6. Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is the world’s most recognized symbol of freedom and democracy. It embodies the ideals and values of America and evokes the aspirations of generations of immigrants.
Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi drew inspiration from the ancient Roman goddess Libertas to represent enlightenment. The statue’s crown spikes evoke sun rays radiating throughout the world, and her tablet carries the date July 4, 1776 in Roman numerals to commemorate American independence. The main difference between memorials vs monuments is that the former are meant to preserve memories, whilst the latter are meant to honor significant events.
To finance the statue and pedestal, both France and the United States used various fundraising methods including theatrical events, art exhibitions and prizefights. Joseph Pulitzer used his newspaper to rally Americans for the cause and raise funds for the pedestal.
7. Gateway Arch
Designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel, the Gateway Arch was built between 1963 and 1965. At 630 feet tall, it is the tallest monument in the United States. Visitors can ride a tram to the top of the Arch, which offers spectacular views of St. Louis and the Mississippi River.
While the Gateway Arch is the smallest National Park, it’s an engineering marvel that’s worth visiting in its own right. And in 2018, the Arch underwent a major renovation, including an expanded museum that tells the story of America’s westward expansion through a St. Louis lens.
8. Standing Soldiers
In little towns across the country, simple, mass-produced shaft monuments of a common soldier emerged in the aftermath of the Civil War. These “common soldier monuments” became a vehicle for a national discussion of race, but their interpretation remains controversial.
Kirk Savage uses art historical methods to examine how monument building became a process of national and racial definition as Americans struggled with the meaning of freedom after the Civil War. He probes a host of fascinating questions in this first sustained investigation of Civil War monuments as agents of memory and reconciliation.
9. 54th Regiment Memorial
The 54th Regiment Memorial is one of the best-known works by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. It was the first monument in America to honor a group of African-American soldiers. It depicts Colonel Shaw and his black troops who risked their lives in the battle at Fort Wagner. Many of them were escaped slaves who had secured their freedom through the Underground Railroad.
The committee who created the sculpture commissioned Saint-Gaudens to immortalize the soldiers in bronze. He worked on the piece for 14 years. The sculpture was dedicated in 1897.
10. Crazy Horse Memorial
In 1939, Lakota elders asked Polish American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to create a rock carving of the Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse. Ziolkowski, who had worked on Mount Rushmore, agreed.
Ziolkowski refused government funds, saying the memorial should be financed only through admission fees and private donations. He died in 1982, but his family continues work on the memorial today. No completion date has been set, but it is estimated that the project will take several more generations to complete. Visiting this monument is well worth it! Follow 5DifferenceBetween.com for more!