St. Louis officially sided with the North during the Civil War, and so it’s fitting Forest Park includes statues of Union leaders such as President Lincoln’s Attorney General Edward Bates, the creator of the first volunteer Union army in the South, Francis Preston Blair, Jr., and Union General Franz Sigel.
But many here also supported the South and St. Louis ranked third — behind New Orleans and Richmond — among cities providing the most troops to the Confederacy. So, Forest Park also has a Confederate memorial.
In 1912, almost 50 years after the Civil War’s end, the Ladies Confederate Monument Association sought proposals for a statue in Forest Park so long as it contained “no figure of a Confederate soldier or object of modern warfare.”
The move sparked local debate. Some did not want to honor soldiers from the South. Others were afraid St. Louis would lose business in the South if it prohibited the memorial.
Even the sculptors in the design competition were at each others’ throats. Frederick Ruckstuhl charged George Zolnay’s entry — portraying a young man surrounded by worried loved ones as he prepared to leave for war — a violation of the competition’s rules prohibiting the use of soldiers.
Zolnay shot back, calling Ruckstuhl “a pest” and claiming Ruckstuhl’s design was “suitable for a wedding cake.” The St. Louis Republic reported Ruckstuhl called Zolnay “grotesque.”
Zolnay won the competition.
When an ordinance approving the monument was passed by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, it became the first time a Forest Park memorial needed an ordinance’s approval. It was unveiled on Dec. 15, 1914.
Thus, a park in St. Louis, Missouri, showcases memorials to both sides of one war. How many cities in the world can make the same claim? Very few, if any, in this country.
Some want to destroy the monument because the South stood firmly for slavery. Others suggest we bury it or move it. All the better the debate helps us learn more about our history.
And in the spirit of apprising ourselves of our own history, I suggest we keep the monument. However, I think we need to add a historical marker explaining our region’s divided allegiance in the Civil War, the genesis of the monument and the evils of slavery.
I’ll be happy to pay for the plaque.
Lest people think I am siding with the South, let me remind them I led the charge with Rep. Bill Clay, Sr., in 1999 to install a plaque outside the Old Courthouse honoring Dred and Harriett Scott, the slaves who sued for their freedom.
Today, I suggest we maintain the monument, not as a salute to the Confederacy, but as an informative historic artifact illustrating our city’s unique, if controversial, past.